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Rural Alaska

Tuluksak finally gets potable water 6 weeks after treatment plant was destroyed by fire

The village of Tuluksak with the Kuskokwim River in the distance. (Lisa Demer / ADN)

BETHEL - The people of Tuluksak have access to potable running water after over a month without it.

A fire destroyed the village’s water purification plant in mid-January. Residents had been relying on donations of bottled water since then.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. last Tuesday restored drinking water by installing a reverse osmosis filtration system servicing one collection point at the school, KYUK-AM reported.

“It goes through a series of filters to filter out any kind of contamination, and then it goes through an RO treatment, which further treats it,” said Cindy Christian, the project manager for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Drinking Water Program.

She added: “And then the water from the RO is going to be chlorinated so that it is disinfected, and it can be used for all purposes, including drinking water.”

Before the new system was installed, residents without bottled water had to collect and haul water or ice from the nearby Tuluksak River or the Kuskokwim River, which is farther away.

Tuluksak's water plant burned Jan. 16, 2021. (Photo by Kristy Napoka)

Residents in the past have complained about bad water quality from the Tuluksak River, even when it is boiled, KYUK-AM reported.

The reverse osmosis system is only a short-term solution. A temporary water purification plant will be needed to restore potable water to all water collection points in the village, the radio station reported.

“Reverse osmosis units are pretty energy intensive systems and their filters are very expensive to replace,” said Brian Lefferts, YKHC director of environmental health and engineering. “And so by bringing this water treatment plant up to Tuluksak, we then can provide potable water to that entire system.”

The village will have to wait several years for a permanent structure, but funding has been secured, the radio station reported.

The Indian Health Service announced last month that it would provide for the majority of the nearly $7 million replacement drinking water facility.