Haines water department works to keep water flowing from Lily Lake amid drought

The Haines Borough water and sewer plant. (Photo by Henry Leasia)

Dry weather and low snowpack have reduced the amount of water in Lily Lake to historically low levels this summer. The lake is one of the main drinking water sources for Haines. The municipal water department is working around the clock to keep water flowing down the line.

“This is the main water line that comes from Lily Lake. It’s 10,000 feet of line. Almost two miles. Goes right to the lake,” said Haines water treatment and sewer plant supervisor Dennis Durr.

He helps ensure that the water coming from the town’s main water source is safe to drink, but right now the plant is not processing enough water to keep up with demand. 

“We’re making 130 gallons a minute right now. Normally this time of year we should be making at least 250 gallons a minute,” Durr said. “We’re not keeping up right now, but we are making water. That’s good. That’s keeping us in the ball game here.”

Nobody at the water department has seen Lily Lake reach levels this low before. Durr says a bad snow year and a dry summer are to blame. He spent Sunday night camped out at the lake, keeping an eye on the mainline pipe that transports water to the plant. 

The lake will not dry up. There’s plenty of water in there. The issue is how the water gets out of the lake into the water mainline.

The mainline uses gravity to transport water downhill from the lake to the plant. However, the water level at the lake is so much lower than normal that it has revealed a problem with the pipe.

“It just has a slight hump in it,” Durr said. “And so now the water won’t gravity feed down. So right now, pumping is our only solution.”

It’s only a short-term solution. Pumping water directly into the pipe can’t make up for the low water levels indefinitely.

“Rain is a good solution, but you’re going to need a lot of it to be able to bring that lake up to the point where we’re getting gravity again,” Durr said.

Durr says at some point the water department is going to have to make some sort of adjustment to the mainline.

The borough has brought in an engineer from out of town to come up with a preliminary plan to either replace a section of the waterline or lower it. They won’t be able to do that right away though. 

Lily Lake provides about 80 percent of the town’s water during the summer. As the water department works to resolve the pipeline issues, they’re relying more on other springs, wells and water tanks around town.

“Right now, we’re okay. We’ve got water, but in anticipation of us not being able to make water we’re advising people that there is a potential for a boil water notice if there is a loss of pressure,” Durr said.

The areas of town that could experience a loss of water pressure first would be Small Tracts Road, FAA Road and Mud Bay Road.

In the meantime, the borough is asking residents to restrict all outdoor sprinkler use and report any changes in water pressure or leaks to the water department.