Alaska Rural Water Assists Community When a Leak Threatens to Drain Reservoir

SAXMAN, Alaska – When a leak threatened to drain the reservoir and leave the city of Saxman, Alaska without water, the Alaska Rural Water Association helped connect a new service line and provided leak detection to reduce water usage.

“I got called in to do an emergency leak detection because they were losing about 115,000 gallons per day, and the plant barely makes that,” said Sarah Ramey, an ARWA Circuit Rider. Circuit Riders are roving water experts that provide training and technical assistance to several communities.

The Saxman reservoir has a limited capacity after a landslide filled it with rocks and debris. The system struggles to treat enough water to meet demand. A major leak can threaten the water supply, and the city’s remote location can make it difficult to receive replacement parts.

“If they get compromised, they’re days away from being out of water,” Ramey said. “A lot of these villages are so remote that they don’t have access to repair parts. Sometimes we get a request to assist with a tank cleaning, and the community doesn’t even have a power washer.”

Saxman is located on Revillagigedo Island in southeast Alaska. Before she took flight into the area, she called the nearby Ketchikan Public Utility to get repair bands and other equipment.

“They gave us everything we would need,” Ramey said. “It’s awesome when the utilities come together to help one another. A repair band could take up to three weeks, even on a rush order, if the utility has to purchase it.”

When Ramey arrived, the system Operations Specialist took her to the general area of the leak. Water had surfaced and was running down a reservoir access road, threatening to wash the road away. Ramey started using acoustic leak detection equipment to listen for the sound of the leak.

“It started raining, which made it much more complicated,” Ramey said.

Even in the rain, the Circuit Rider was able to locate the leak and mark it for repairs. The assistance helped save Saxman at least $10,000 in lost water and potential road repair. It also prevented the community from losing water service. The community’s small reservoir still posed a problem, and Ramey would return to Saxman to help provide an additional water source for the city.

“Sarah helped when Saxman added a second raw water line,” said Phil Downing, a water professional that worked in Alaska’s Remote Maintenance Worker program and as a contractor for Saxman. “They needed another water source because the reservoir was drying up.”

Ramey worked with state agencies to get a nearby unnamed creek recognized as a source. Then she oversaw part of the work when crews began laying the line to the creek.

“It was complicated – laying lines through the trees and joining pipe,” Downing said. “It was the kind of thing I could do, but there was only one of me.”

Completing the new line helped provide additional capacity and security for Saxman.

“I really enjoyed working with her,” Downing said. “She is a great asset to the community. She was very positive, very professional, she took instruction well and she could take the lead.”

“She is very highly thought of by the Saxman administration because she is so helpful.”