Community editor and columnist Kris Capps is a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Denali Park. Contact her at kcapps@newsminer.com, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.

Nenana water

This pile of broken valves were among the pipes replaced at Nenana's water treatment plant.

Now that Nenana’s water treatment plant is back up and running, the city is looking forward to upgrading the facility later this year. That project was already on the drawing board.

“The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) is at their 95% design phase of the water treatment plant upgrade,” said Nenana Mayor Joshua Verhagan. “All the funding necessary for this upgrade was allocated from the EPA a few years ago and ANTHC is administering those funds and this upgrade.”

That project is set to begin May 2021.

The city narrowly averted a disaster Monday when the automatic door to the plant somehow opened at temperatures of 36 degrees below zero. Before it was discovered, 24 pipes had burst and the city water system was disrupted. Community volunteers and city employees made repairs and by mid-afternoon, water was running again. It was a heroic effort that saved the system from destruction. The fear was that the water system would be down the rest of the winter.

“Had it not gone in the miraculous way that it did, by even a few more hours, the rest of the water system including all the main lines and water connections would have all been damaged or destroyed and we would have no possible way — either financially or physically — of repairing it all,” Verhagan said. “This scenarios would have left us with no options besides declaring a disaster and hoping the state could intervene but still leaving us without a water system for weeks or months.”

Today, the plant is operating again and city workers are repairing any frozen connections that occurred over the past few days.

The mayor will not declare the crisis a disaster. A few days ago, he certainly thought he would be doing that. 

“This was not the expected or anticipated outcome as none of us believed we would be able to acquire the necessary parts or do that insane amount of labor all in a matter of hours,” he said.

Luckily, that earlier projection turned out to be wrong.

City residents are being asked to boil their drinking water, until the water can be officially tested.

“All that happened was the water froze and then thawed,” the mayor said. “However, we are required by law and as a precaution, to warn people about using this water for consumption anytime after the water system has been shut down.”

He expects the boil water notice to be in place through next week but he hopes it can be lifted sooner.

Potable water is available free to residents at the tribe or at the fire station.

The city encourages residents to run a steady stream of water in a faucet somewhere in the home. This will help prevent frozen pipes and is often encouraged during cold spells.

The city plans to install a sensaphone system that will alert someone of temperature changes at the plant. That was supposed to be part of the upgrade. But the city won’t wait. It will install that system immediately.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.