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Hydaburg scrambles to get municipal water system working again after big freeze

Hydaburg officials are working around the clock to get the city's water system back online.
Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 4:17 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2021 at 4:35 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The City of Hydaburg is scrambling to get the municipal water system operating again after it stopped working on Tuesday, leaving hundreds of residents without running water.

Around 380 people live in the Prince of Wales Island community, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Tony Stevens, a newly-elected council member, says that the school, health clinic, local business and hundreds of residents are all without drinking water.

City officials say that Hydaburg’s water pump froze over the weekend when temperatures dropped. Some parts in the pump house have broken, and replacement parts have been ordered.

Mayor Tony Christianson issued a state of emergency on Thursday while crews work around the clock to thaw the water system.

He said the community faces a race against time. Hydaburg is forecast to see temperatures plummet into the single digits early next week, which could freeze critical parts and delay getting the system online again.

Officials from the State Emergency Operations Center held a call with local representatives from Hydaburg on Thursday to understand the scale of the problem. The Southeast community’s emergency come as the Interior has been hit by devastating winter storms which also demand attention.

Tammy Helms of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said that a maintenance worker is offering assistance remotely. If the situation warrants it, someone could be sent to Hydaburg to help along with equipment, she added.

The city has opened “an alternate watering point” where residents can collect water while the municipal system is repaired. Christianson said a hole was made in the ice over the river and a sump pump is drawing water from it.

Calls for drinking water to be delivered to Hydaburg have also been made to surrounding communities on the island. Christianson said some of those communities are also struggling with low water supplies due to recent unusually cold weather for the area.

Ted Peele, a volunteer member of the Hydaburg emergency services team, said fire crews were drawing water from the river into a fire truck on Thursday morning to distribute around town, but not as drinking water.

“It’s back to the old days again,” Peele said. “It’s cold enough where we can drive out to a stream, or whatever, put water into a garbage can and use that to flush your toilet.”

The island’s big grocery stores are in Craig and Klawock. Hydaburg residents have been making the trip to buy bottles of water, but stocks could run low if the municipal water system is not working again soon.

Tina Steffen, a co-owner of Annie Betty’s Bakery Cafe in Craig, has been trying to help. She owns another business called Rainforest Water which sells 5-gallon bottles of water.

She put out an urgent plea on social media for people to return empty bottles so they could be filled with water and distributed around Hydaburg.

“Old customers are calling and trying to get water for the elders and we just don’t have any bottles,” she said. “We’ve got water, we just don’t have anything to put them in.”

Hydaburg Cooperative Association, a local tribal organization, is preparing to distribute drinking water on Friday. Other residents have made calls on social media for help hauling water for elders across the community.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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