Wrangell has received permission from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to modify its water plant. Wrangell has had issues keeping up with demand during summer months and declared a local disaster in 2016. The modification to the water treatment system’s roughing filters may be a short-term boost as Wrangell’s two seafood processors gear up for the season.

Sand used to filter Wrangell’s water. (Aaron Bolton, KSTK News)

Public Works Director Amber Al-Haddad wrote in a letter to the Wrangell Borough Assembly the modification may cost up to $100,000. Al-Haddad added there is “no guarantee” it would provide the results the borough is hoping for.  Public Works is evaluating the plan. 

The department also examined the possibility of replacing sand in a subsequent filter. The sand has not been changed in its 18 years of use and is slowing the treatment process.

Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch told the assembly Tuesday the special sand contains silica, a hazardous material when dry. Disposal costs coupled with the initial $550,000 price tag pushes the project out of the borough’s price range.

“By the time you get done, you could probably spend $700,000 on replacing the sand. To give you an idea, the water fund raises in revenues every year $550,000,” Jabusch explained.

The department will also be looking to increase water rates by 5 percent in 2017 and again next year. Each home pays $40.75 currently, and bills would jump about $2 if implemented through an assembly vote.

The borough is still seeking to replace its current water treatment system. The cost is estimated to be about $8.5 million. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working with the borough on funding the project through a grant and loan program. But, Al-Haddad said she’s spoken with the U.S. Economic Development Administration about additional grant funds and is working on an application.

Jabusch explained the borough wants to create an ordinance to implement a water conservation plan and will be reaching out to the assembly for ideas.

“So everybody knows up front, if we get to this situation and on the way down to it, these are the actions taken, so it’s all spelled out,” Jabusch added.

An ordinance is expected to be introduced at the next meeting or in early April.