Winter cold snaps aren’t just causing frozen pipes and power outages in the lower 48. In Angoon, recent cold temperatures exacerbated ongoing issues with the town’s water supply. The Coast Guard stepped in to help by delivering bottled water to the community of around 450 people.
The troubles with Angoon’s water supply started on the morning of Feb. 3.
“We got a few calls about one of our main lines breaking and a pretty heavy river of water coming out of it,” said Mayor Joshua Bowen.
After a day’s worth of digging with jackhammers, torches and an excavator, the town’s water operators, Donald Johnson and Daniel Fredrickson Jr., found the culprit — a small pipe connected to a fire hydrant. They were able to bandage the pipe and stop the leak. But not before the town had lost a lot of water.
They’d also just completed some routine maintenance that meant the system wasn’t at full capacity. Then, came a stretch of single digit temperatures.
“And lots of people’s lines were freezing and breaking, and we were just losing water left and right. So all of that combined was making it very difficult to rebuild the water supply,” Bowen said.
The town’s water pressure had grown so weak that Bowen worried about drinking water safety and reached out to the Department of Environmental Conservation to request a boil water notice, which was granted last Friday (2-12-21). And then came Saturday morning.
“We woke up and a third of the town had no water at all, whatsoever, coming out of their taps, mine included,” he said.
This time, another residential leak and a broken water pump were to blame.
“Overnight, of all times, it decided to die on us the motor did. Without flow going through there, it was susceptible to freeze which it did. Froze and broke,” Bowen said.
They quickly got to work repairing the pump, but when Bowen got a call from the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska asking if the town needed potable water, he said yes.
“Next thing you know I’m getting a call saying that the Coast Guard is bringing us a bunch of water and I’m really blown away that was really fast,” Bowen said.
Jeannie Greene is the Captain of the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory, a 225-foot buoy tender homeported in Homer. They were on their way back from dropping buoys in Ketchikan when they got the call that Angoon needed water.
“We don’t usually get to partake in missions that are of immediate life safety concern,” Greene said. “Even though I understand Angoon, they were going to do okay for a few days, it did feel urgent and man we loved getting to do it.”
When the ship pulled into the ferry terminal on Saturday evening, Bowen and members of Angoon’s Tribal government, the Angoon Community Association, helped distribute the nearly 7,000 bottles of water.
“I brought the forklift out there and lifted the pallets right into the trucks and they went straight from the ferry terminal to door to door and delivered a couple of cases of water to every household,” he said.
Bowen said the additional water helped relieve pressure on the town’s water system, so they could get it back up and running. Angoon is working with Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and other partners to upgrade its aging water and sewer lines to help prevent breakdowns in the future.
The boil water notice remains in effect until they receive test results back from DEC, which Bowen anticipates later this week.
Erin McKinstry is a Report for America corps member.