It was the second time water has been shut off in the community recently. In October the school district closed an outside source of water at the Chiniak school.
For some residents of Chiniak, closing the outside faucets leads to questions of how they will get water to live.
“Usually I don’t need it. I have my own water,” Mary Brown said. “However, right now it’s been very cold, my water’s frozen and I do need it, along with other people.”
Chiniak resident Amanda Koch also said her household was now without a source of water.
“We are only talking about water here,” resident Claude Travis said. “You try living a few days without it. This is pretty important stuff. There are some people here who have testified that they don’t have any water at home.
“You take it for granted when you live in town you turn a spigot on and it comes on. But out here we’ve got to make due with what we’ve got,” he said.
The situation stems from the way the school district is treating the water at the Chiniak school since it reopened to students this year. The Chiniak school was closed the past two years due to less than 10 students attending the school.
Kodiak Island Borough School District superintendent Stuart McDonald outlined the history.
“The borough didn’t build a public water source, they built a water source for a school,” he said. “We’ve had water faucets on the outsides of our buildings that we left open and no one said that a person could or couldn’t use the water. It was completely acceptable for anybody to use that water.”
At one time, Chiniak school had as many as 39 students. With a higher student population using the water source, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) applied requirements for the school’s water to be treated with chemicals as a disinfectant.
But as Chiniak school prepared to reopen this year, school district staff discovered that a much less costly method of water treatment, through filtration, could be used for the current population at the school and would be just as effective.
“If the faucet was opened, we would be in a different classification,” McDonald said. “It would cost a minimum of $10,000, or higher, to operate it. The only reason why we would turn (the faucet) on is for a non-education purpose.”
The money would take away from student instruction or school staffing, McDonald said.
When the water went off in October, some Chiniak residents adjusted by using the spigot outside the Chiniak Library, which is connected to the same water source as the Chiniak school.
However, when DEC officials learned of the use, they told the borough to shut it down.
“(DEC) called and told us that the outside spigot at the library is on and people are using it as a public water point,” borough maintenance coordinator Bob Tucker said. “That’s not the way the (school) district is operating their system, so we had to close that valve.”
It was not clear Wednesday that there were any near-term solutions to the water dilemma for some residents of Chiniak.
“This is all taken us by surprise, it happened real fast,” Travis said. “Why not give us a grace period? Why not leave the water on until we can figure something out for ourselves? We’ve been getting (water) out here since the school was built. What’s the big deal about a couple more months?”
School district and borough staff considered asking the DEC for an emergency waiver to allow affected families to access water from the system.
As far as a long-term solution to the water issue, borough manager Rick Gifford said Chiniak residents could form a service area to create a water system of its own.
“That then gives the borough the authority to go ahead and develop and design a system that could provide public water,” Gifford said.
Chiniak residents said digging wells in the area was hit and miss, with some wells having water smelling of rotten eggs.
“We have another thing going on here, and that’s the community,” Chiniak resident Scott Bonney said. “This could drive the school into the ground. We could lose students, we could lose people coming out here because we don’t have a solution.”
Along with the water closure, another large issue Wednesday night was whether the water at the Chiniak school is safe to drink now that it is only being filtered.
Chiniak resident Vicki Hester asked point blank, “Is this water safe for the students to drink?”
“The answer is yes,” KIBSD director of operations Scott Williams said. “We’re meeting the requirements. In fact we are going beyond the requirements, and we feel the addition of chemicals to the system is a detriment. So yes, we believe the water is safe (to drink) again in the capacity that it was designed to do.”
Williams said the water was being filtered to 3 microns.
Mirror writer Wes Hanna can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.