Wrangell has declared a water emergency. City officials say the Southeast community has about one month of supply left. So, they’re asking residents to cut way back on use. Those conservation measures, and more rainfall, could solve the problem. 

The city says it will “aggressively monitor and strictly enforce” water restrictions for residents. These mandates include no outside water usage, fixing plumbing leaks and reducing everyday consumption. 

“Obviously nobody’s watering anything outside yet, because it’s still too cold. But there’s going to be an urge to want to wash your cars,” says Lisa Von Bargen, the city manager. “Please refrain from doing that, any washing of decks or driveways or paved surfaces or things like that.”

Residents who don’t comply will get a verbal and written warning. Further violations could bring a $500 fine. Wrangell does not have a water metering system. The city says it will survey and fix its own system leaks.

“We’re not going out there with a hammer and handing out a citation immediately. We’re going to make sure the community understands why we’re doing this, and what needs to be done,” Von Bargen says. “But, please, we need to make sure there isn’t abuse and isn’t egregious use of water in the community.”

The city issued a red alert. This comes less than three weeks after it announced a lesser yellow alert.

The water shortage is two-fold. There isn’t enough raw water, because the island hasn’t gotten much rainfall. And, the water treatment plant isn’t cutting it. Through its filtration process, it’s losing hundreds of thousands of gallons a week.

“Every time we do filter cleanings we’re dumping approximately 150,000 gallons of water which is a ridiculous loss, because there’s no way to recoup that,” Von Bargen says. “That can be anywhere between two and four times a week.”

The city says it has plans to retain half of that lost water through more maintenance.

The plant was installed in the 1999. Since then it has required way more cleaning than anticipated. And in the past few years it has struggled to meet the town’s needs.

“[A water catching system] should have been designed into this plant, had we known that we would be performing filter maintenance as often as we do. But with the idea that we would only be maintaining those sand filters about once a quarter of the year, it wasn’t a big concern,” says Amber Al-Haddad, the public works director. “So, that feature wasn’t built into the design”

It is also working with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conversation to address the issue.

The city is working towards replacing its plant.