Nome’s water tested, found safe to drink
Nome Joint Utility System power plant personnel called the NJUS office Thursday morning to report a sudden 2,500 to 3,000 gallon-per-minute increase in water usage, That rise in usage indicated a leak in the system.
It turned out that a break in a water pipe at the hospital parking lot sent Nomeites to buy bottled water or to their stoves to boil their drinking water for two days. NJUS sent out a notification Thursday morning to boil water before drinking it, making ice, tooth brushing, washing dishes and food preparations. The Boil Notice went out when low pressure stemming from the leak episode triggered a cautionary state requirement to boil drinking water. Residents seemed to take the water boiling in stride. Polar Café and other restaurants kept their doors open using boiled water and bottled water. Norton Sound Health Corp. rationed potable water for hospital employees to conserve water for patients.
NJUS canceled the “Boil Water Notice” Saturday morning after the Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation approved lifting the notice based on lab results confirming the water was safe to drink.
After they received the alert from power plant operators, Ken Morton, assistant manager and chief financial officer, along with John K. Handeland, manager, took a look at the NJUS computer monitoring system. It looked like the leak was at the east end of town by the hospital. Shortly after, a call came in with the news that there was indeed a major leak by the hospital near the intersection of Greg Kruschek Road and N Street, at the start of the driveway into the hospital complex.
On Monday, Morton gave a rundown of what happened Thursday morning to trigger a state regulation to boil water before use Thursday. NJUS staff had wanted to reduce the amount of water loss, Morton said, so they lowered the pump output by half.
Morton scooted out to the site to take a look at the leak, got on the radio and alerted crews to begin work isolating break in the pipe.
“From the time the first call came in to when we had the water reduced in that section, I want to say was about an hour and 15 minutes,” Morton said. “At that point we were able to bring the pressure back up. So the way we cut the water off to that loop, the hospital was able to get their water back, but Quyanna Care Center did not have water. We focused very hard on that, because obviously, that is a big deal.”
The crews mobilized a backhoe and a vacuum truck that excavated ground water and granular material around the pipe using suction to avoid having the backhoe against the pipe, Morton explained, to expose the location of the leak.
“So we found the leak, took out a section of pipe, and capped both ends so we could restore pressure in the pipe and restore water to Quyanna Care. By that time it was getting sort of late in the workday. We headed back to the office and looked at the SCADA computer data. We noticed that the pressure recorded in the SCADA had dropped below 20 psi in the hour and 15 minutes,” Morton explained.
“It’s that positive pressure that helps to keep contaminants from entering the system, so while we had no knowledge or reason to expect that we had an infiltration into the water line, we were pretty much obligated to do what we did to serve our permits with the state Dept. of Environmental Conservation,” Morton continued.
“It was past 5 p.m. Thursday when we had this figured out—too late to coordinate with ADEC, so we pulled together the boil notice, posted the water boil notice around down. We grabbed water samples Thursday night. Alaska Airlines was most helpful in allowing us to send a Gold Streak even after they had quit accepting Gold Streak. They were very kind in helping us out,” Morton said. “We got the samples to Anchorage, then they were taken to a lab by courier and a 24-hour test started about 12:38 a.m. Friday morning, which is pretty remarkable that a lab would be willing to start a sample at 12:38 a.m.
“We called ADEC Friday morning; the agent said that we had done everything right. Moreover, she wanted to see our sampling plan from when we took the samples to see that they were representative of our distribution. The agent said she would set her alarm for a little after midnight early Saturday morning; if she got an indication that everything was clean and looking good, she would release the Boil Water Notice. Only ADEC can release the notice. We needed their authorization to do so,” Morton said.
Based on an approved sampling plan and a lab report verifying Nome’s clean water, just after midnight Saturday morning at the end of the 24-hour test, the ADEC agent would release the boil water notice on Saturday morning.
The results came back at 1:10 a.m. Saturday morning. The Boil Notice was lifted around 8 a.m. Saturday morning flowing an e-mail notice from DEC.
“I am really appreciative of state Dept. of Environmental Conservation willingness to work with us in getting to a rapid solution,” Morton said Monday.
Handeland hired Morton as assistant manager and chief financial officer effective July 24. Morton grew up in Nome, the son of Art and Jeannette Morton.