Installation of long-awaited water plant underway in Tuluksak

Tuluksak lost its water plant to a fire on Jan. 16, 2021. (Olivia Ebertz/KYUK)

A long-awaited water plant has arrived in Tuluksak after a fire destroyed the Southwest Alaska community’s only source of running water back in January.

Tuluksak originally expected to have the portable water plant months ago.

After the community’s washateria burned down, residents lived off of donated bottled water for a month and a half. Then, in early March, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation was able to restore access to running water.

YKHC installed a system that piped water from the Tuluksak River to the school, but a KYUK investigation found many people in town weren’t drinking that water. The school sits at the edge of town, and water access was limited both by the school’s hours of operation and by its storage tanks.

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Courtesy of Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation

The community was expecting another solution: A portable water plant that YKHC would lend to Tuluksak for the next several years, until a permanent water plant and washateria could be built. The new water plant promised to be in a more central location in town, and to provide much more water storage.

But while the water plant is portable, it’s not all that easy to move. So when it came to actually transporting it, Faulkner and Walsh Constructors — the company contracted to deliver it — was plagued by thinning river ice. Ice road conditions were too dangerous for them to drive it up from Bethel. For a brief spell, the Army National Guard thought it might be able to fly the portable water plant to Tuluksak using a Chinook helicopter, the same chopper used to remove the “Into The Wild” bus from a remote area near Denali National Park.

Eventually, plans were put on hold until river conditions were stable enough to barge up the portable water plant, which Faulkner and Walsh finally achieved on June 10. Now, according to YKHC, workers are installing the plant and hope to have it up and running later this summer.

The next step in the process is building the community a new permanent water treatment plant. YKHC is working with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Village Safe Water and the CRW Engineering Group to get updated cost estimates and timelines. Previously, the agencies had estimated a figure of $8.2 million and a summer 2023 timeline.

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