When people in Akhiok want a glass of water, it’s not as simple as turning on the faucet and filling a glass.
Akhiok’s water treatment system doesn’t meet any of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory drinking water requirements, which means filling a glass involves a trip to the stove or a flight to Kodiak for bottled water.
“People are upset with it,” said Dan McCoy, vice-mayor of Akhiok and supervisor of the city’s water treatment plant.
A boil-water order in Kodiak Island’s southernmost community has been in effect since 1989, when the EPA introduced the 1989 Surface Water Treatment Rule, which formed drinking water standards.
Akhiok isn’t meeting standards because its water treatment system is failing.
The system has two water filters, which were built in the 1970s, and only one is working. Since parts are no longer manufactured for the broken filter, the other filter is doing all the work.
There are also two large storage tanks where water must be stored and chlorinated for extended period of time to destroy bacteria and viruses. The water tanks cannot hold the water long enough for the chlorination process to work, which means the bacteria are continuing to flow through the city’s taps.
“I filter the best I can at this time and I chlorinate the water the best I can at this time,” McCoy said. “It takes 20 minutes minimum for the chlorine to penetrate the bacteria. We have no contact time for the chlorine.”
In addition to the city’s water problems, sewage is flowing directly into the lagoon where residents tie up their boats. The sewage outfall line that runs a quarter-mile off the beach broke and has not been fixed.
“Every time I see the kids playing in that area on the beach at low tide, I stop and chase them out,” McCoy said.
The problems with Akhiok’s water treatment facility were identified in a 2003 study, but still have not been addressed. The 2003 study recommended fixes that totaled $5.56 million. That hasn’t happened because Akhiok, with a population of 82 people, doesn’t have the money.
“Akhiok is difficult and challenging to get funding for because it has such a small population,” said Shad Schoppert of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which has been working with Akhiok to come up with an affordable solution.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium completed a new water and sewage feasibility study in October 2012 and came up with a more cost-effective solution.
The new recommendations are just under $1 million and would fix the sewer and water problems.
The solution includes containerized water treatment system that would be stored in two shipping containers.
“It’s basically a water treatment system in a box,” Schoppert said.
The system has a design life of about 10 years and would treat enough water to meet the city’s needs.
“It’s not comparable to a replacement water treatment plant,” Schoppert said. “It’s intended to get them by and provide good quality water until we can find a more permanent solution. It’s sized to meet the demand.”
The new plan also calls for the sewage outfall line to be repaired, the creation of a septic sludge disposal area, and purchasing equipment for pumping the community septic tanks.
Akhiok submitted its proposal for consideration by the Alaska Legislature.
On a recent trip to Juneau, members of the Kodiak Island Borough and the Assembly lobbied in favor of the project.
Akhiok’s project is on a Kodiak Island Borough community capital improvement project list.
“We were furthering their cause to make it known that it is of regional concern,” said borough manager Bud Cassidy.
Ultimately, the decision on sewage and water funding comes from the Department of Environmental Conservation, which ranks water and sewage projects around the state in terms of priority.
Akhiok was not ranked among the DEC’s top 15 water and sewage projects, and the borough has its lobbyists working to figure out where it is ranked and why.
Akhiok isn’t alone in its struggles for funding. Other villages throughout the state are also trying to replace aging equipment installed during the 1970s, when Alaska was flush with oil money. Some smaller communities, particularly in the Yukon River delta, have never even had sewage systems installed.
“I think we can easily argue that basic water supply to communities should be a high priority, but when you throw that into the mix with the rest of the communities around the state that’s where DEC ranks the projects,” Cassidy said.
Until Akhiok receives funds, McCoy will continue doing the best he can with the equipment he has, and the boil water order will remain in place.
Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at firstname.lastname@example.org.