Bethel pipe breakage cancels schools and leaves some residents without water

by Angela Denning-Barnes on March 29, 2013

A pond was created on the tundra from a broken water pipe near Bethel High School, March 29. Photo by Dean Swope

A pond was created on the tundra from a broken water pipe near Bethel High School, March 29. Photo by Dean Swope

When Grace Lieb of Bethel woke up this morning, she didn’t have any water running in her house. She says she got up at 6:30 and started the coffee pot with water from a pitcher. She didn’t notice anything was wrong until she tried to take a shower. “Water was just trickling out of the pipe,” Lieb said.

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“And then I decided to check the toilet,” she continued. “It was flushing okay but the tank is usually full anyway. Then I went out to the kitchen and tried the faucet there. It was also trickling. Then I knew something wasn’t right.”

Lieb wasn’t alone. Hundreds of residents in Bethel’s Housing Subdivision were without water this morning.

It all stemmed from a leak in a water pipe at the schools near the subdivision. A water pipe near Bethel Regional High School broke and leaked thousands of gallons of water overnight. It leaked so much water that it emptied a city water tank that services the entire Housing Subdivision neighborhood. The tank holds a half million gallons of water. The leaking water created a pond on the tundra near the high school.

The Lower Kuskokwim School District is trying to fix the broken pipe problem. Superintendent, Gary Baldwin, says it wasn’t a frozen pipe, but a pipe fitting that failed. He says they hope to have the pipe fixed by tonight. All LKSD schools in Bethel were canceled today because of the pipe except for a pre-school. Baldwin says classes should all resume Monday.

Meanwhile, city utility workers found out about the problem when they came to work at 7 a.m. The city has been working all day to get residents back on piped water. Mike Chris, a utility maintenance worker with the city public works department, says they didn’t have to wait for the school’s pipe to be fixed. They just had to wait for the 500-thousand gallon tank to fill back with water and to get enough pressure back in the system. They had hoped that would happen by this afternoon.

Businesses in the subdivision have also been affected. Bethel’s Senior Center is located in the middle of the neighborhood. The center serves about 50 seniors daily and hand delivers prepared lunches to approximately 35 more. But that’s on a normal day. Today, they were expecting up to 70 at the center for their Easter lunch.

But Louise Charles, Director of the Senior Center, says plans had to change.

“We need water to prepare the meal and to do all the cleanup,” Charles said. “It would be unsanitary if we were to remain open today.”

Instead, seniors got take-home Easter lunches. The center was able to use stored water to prepare those meals.

The water outage has affected 117 units with the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and many more with AVCP Regional Housing Authority. Calls to AVCP Housing regarding how many Bethel units they have were not returned.

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