These Y-K Delta communities, including Bethel, waiving some utility costs during COVID-19 pandemic

The City of Bethel says it won’t shut off water and sewer utility accounts for nonpayment for the duration of the public health emergency.(Greg Kim / KYUK)

Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities are giving their residents a break on their water and sewer bills. The goal is to offer financial relief, as well as provide more water for residents to wash their hands and their homes to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The City of Aniak will not charge residents sewer and public works bills for the months of April, May, and June. Aniak Mayor Erica Kamerof says that sewer service is the only city bill locals pay in Aniak.

Also on the Kuskokwim River, the community of Upper Kalskag has a mix of homes on running water and hauled water. For its hauled water services, residents used to pay $25 a month to have water delivered twice a month. This service was free to Elders. Now, hauled water is free for everyone and is delivered every week. City Administrator Lena Stewart said that this change began March 16, and will last for two months.

On the Bering Sea coast, the community of Nightmute is also trying to help its residents with hygiene during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the community uses honey buckets, but some residents have a sewer tank at home. Those households usually pay $25 to borrow the city’s sewer truck to evacuate the sewage from their tank and take it to the sewer lagoon. The city’s bookkeeper, Clement George, says that fee will be waived for the time being. George says that eliminates the money transaction, and it allows households to use water more freely since they don’t need to worry about being charged for their wastewater.

And in Bethel, the city will not shut off customers’ utility services if households are unable to pay their bills. Late payments on utility bills for April and May will not include penalties or interest. The city urges residents who currently do not have water and sewer services or cannot afford these services to call the city at 543-3150.

Acting City Manager Bill Howell authorized these changes under powers granted to him by the Emergency Ordinance passed in the emergency city council meeting on March 25. The changes went into effect on March 30 and do not require additional city council approval. The city is also extending the deadline for sales tax returns for businesses by 15 days in both February and March. 

On March 24, the Alaska Rural Utility Collaborative (ARUC)’s advisory committee voted to reconnect running water to homes that were unable to pay for it. ARUC manages water and sewer systems for 26 rural Alaskan communities that include ChevakGoodnews BayHoly CrossKotlikUpper and Lower KalskagPitka’s PointQuinhagakRussian MissionScammon BaySleetmute, and Toksook Bay. ARUC Senior Program Manager Francine Moreno says that the water will stay on at least through the end of May, and perhaps longer if the COVID-19 outbreak continues. Homeowners will still be billed for the water they use.