At a town hall meeting last Wednesday, the city of Wrangell reiterated the solution to the town’s water woes: conservation.
Yes, the region is in a drought and weather conditions dictate how much water is available. But so many other factors impact Wrangell’s water, and they’re actually things the city has some say over.
Here’s our recap on what the city is doing now and what it’s plans are to tackle the water crisis. And, what solutions seem to be off the table
Finding and fixing leaks: An unknown amount of water has been lost due to leaking pipes. Dozens of leaks have been detected and repaired since 2018. Each leak can burn more than 20 gallons per minute. The city found one last year burning 400 gallons per minute. Wrangell has mostly iron pipes, up to 60 years old, that can rot away in the soil. The corrosion is caused by electrolysis. The city hopes to upgrade to HDPE, or high-density polyethylene, pipes. Front street already has these plastic pipes. The city will soon upgrade pipes on Bennett Street, costing $97,000. A combination of $1.2 of state grants and loans with replace water mains on Spring Street, 5th Avenue, and Grave St. That work should begin next summer.
Saving water lost in production: 30 percent of the town’s treated water is lost in production. That includes necessary dumping when the filters are cleaned. But the crew have been able to save some of that, roughly 150,000 gallons a week.
No water sales to cruise ships: The city says the profit is small.
New water treatment plant: The slow-sand filtration system built in the 90’s is slow. A new plant was approved over a year ago. The city has stalled on design and construction. It’s been waiting on approval of a $3 million Economic Development Administration grant for over a year, an apparent frustration for staff. Officials say they do not want to pass the buck to rate payers and that’s why they are waiting for the EDA’s final word. Once funding is secured it could take two to three years to install the plant.
Metering: Metering is known to deter excess consumption and would help the city pinpoint leaks as they occur. The city hopes to bring metering online in two years, though it isn’t sure of the cost and hasn’t secured funds yet.
Consumption cuts: The city has asked community members to do their part. The city says locals simply cutting back has reduced consumption up to 100 gallons per minute. Both fish processors are using sea water where they can. Big users (hotel, hospital, seafood plants, harbor) are meeting weekly to anticipate water needs.
Other water sources: A geological study showed there is little ground water to tap into. City Manager Lisa Von Bargen says tapping into Sunrise Lake could cost $40 to $50 million, something it doesn’t want to pay for. City officials seemed conflicted at the meeting. Mayor Steve Prysunka said ” the water we have is what we have”. Assembly member Anne Morrison said folks should still come to the city with ideas for other sources. The city says it is tapping into some smaller wells, but nothing sustainable. A well at shoemaker bay is now used for non-potable water ,used primarily for road work and street cleaning. The city is looking into another well at the institute property.