Kotzebue residents experience discolored water during annual fire hydrant flushing

The city said, the annual hydrant flushing causes twice the amount of normal water to run though the water mains.
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 7:35 PM AKDT
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KOTZEBUE, Alaska (KTUU) - Fire hydrant flushing in Kotzebue has left some residents there experiencing discoloration of their tap water.

“Brown water. And you could smell it. Just, it was terrible,” Kotzebue resident Trudy Kenworthy said. “It smelt like probably fecal matter.”

Kotzebue Public Works Director Russell Ferguson said the annual hydrant flushing causes twice the amount of normal water to run through the water mains. The flushing, which is designed to ensure the hydrants are fully operational in the event of a fire, scours the water pipes which contain built-up minerals such as magnesium and iron.

But Ferguson said there’s another factor at play this year with the city’s darker-than-normal water: manganese.

“The darker than normal color this year is due to the dissolved Manganese not being fully removed from the water prior to chlorination, this is due to the oxidization not operating as efficiently as planned,” Ferguson wrote in an email. “An upgrade to this tank to correct the problem has been drawn up and we are currently waiting on the construction schedules to get it done.”

Ferguson said the level of manganese in the Kotzebue water system is not a health threat, and that if residents are experiencing discolored water, they should run the water until it’s clear.

However, Kenworthy said she has tried that.

“It doesn’t go away, it’s not going away as we speak,” Kenworthy said.

Kenworthy said last winter she began feeling sick and is worried it was due to the water. She is now worried about how the water could be impacting others.

“I’m concerned for my elders, our elders up there. And the babies. And just the population in general,” Kenworthy said. “It’s got to be taken care of, that water. Water is just something that you can’t mess with.”

The city says if residents need water for cooking or drinking while pipes are being scoured they can bring containers to the water plant to fill them. Prior to arriving, residents should call or text 907-412-0881 in order to access the treatment plant.

The city reported the Kotzebue Fire Department has paused hydrant flushing until Wednesday. From there it’s estimated that it will take another two to three weeks for the department to flush out the remaining areas.