DEC looks into whether drums in village's drinking water lake pose any hazards

(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 9, 2016 at 3:13 PM AKDT
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Wednesday 11:20 a.m. UPDATE:

State and North Slope Borough officials say Point Lay’s drinking water lake was wiped out by the nearby Kokolik River, which flooded and eroded the lake banks.

The August 5 event drained the lake and exposed numerous industrial drums on the sediment, according to a situation report by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The source of the drums is unknown.

The agency is trying to determine if the drums pose any risks to human health and the environment, according to a situation report released Wednesday.

DEC has not received past reports of any contamination in the lake, and there are no reports of any active spills.

The Arctic community of about 120 people in northwest Alaska has three holding tanks full of drinking water, enough to get through the winter. Testing in June indicated the water in the tanks is safe for drinking, according to DEC.

Wednesday 8:30 a.m. UPDATE:

Testing for contamination in Point Lay’s drinking water lake was completed on Tuesday and results are expected within a few days, according to a North Slope Borough official.

Residents of the Chukchi Sea coastal village in Northwest Alaska grew concerned last week when industrial drums appeared in a lake they use as their drinking water source, prompting an emergency visit to the village by North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr. on Friday.

The drums in the lake appear to be ones that “may have sank from the water suction line platform” over the past three decades, said David Fauske, the borough’s director of government and external affairs.

While the town awaits the test results, residents are drinking treated, non-contaminated water held in storage tanks, according to Fauske. There’s enough such drinking water on hand to last until the fall of 2017, he said.

In the meantime, the North Slope Borough Public Works Department is working on identifying “a feasible water source to restore water supply to the community and all options are being considered,” he said.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Officials from the North Slope Borough and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are trying to determine if the drinking water in Point Lay is safe after reports surfaced that industrial drums were found in a lake that serves as the town’s water source.

North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr. flew to the Chukchi Sea coast village on Friday after hearing concerns from residents.

“In response to community concerns that the water supply for the village of Point Lay may be contaminated, the North Slope Borough is taking immediate action to establish an alternative water supply for the community as investigators work to pinpoint and identify possible contaminants,” said David Fauske, a borough spokesman.

The borough has not needed to fly bottled water to Point Lay yet because several holding tanks of drinking water are still full, Fauske said. The borough is considering building a pipeline to a new drinking water source, he said. Costs and logistics are being calculated.

Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) spokeswoman Candice Bressler said the department received an anonymous report about potential water contamination in Point Lay and is trying to verify it. She said what appear to be drums have been found in the lake.

“If the report is confirmed, then we would mobilize and work on identifying the responsible party,” Bressler said.

DEC’s divisions of environmental health and spill prevention and response are aware of the situation and are in touch with the village.

A woman who answered the phone at the Native Village of Point Lay said she was not authorized to speak with the media. The village’s fire department directed calls to the North Slope Borough.

The village has a public drinking water system and is required to test its water regularly, said Kristin Ryan, director of DEC’s division of spill prevention and response.

Point Lay’s drinking water system, along with that of other North Slope communities, is owned and operated by the North Slope Borough, said Bill Griffith, facility program manager with DEC's division of water.

“The borough's first and foremost responsibility is to ensure the health and safety of its residents and is taking these concerns very seriously. Additional information will be distributed to the impacted community and general public as soon as it becomes available,” said Fauske.