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11/23/2019
Water quality

Ketchikan’s drinking water is safe, but it is isn’t in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

That is a problem for state and federal officials, who enforce the federal law.

The solution could cost above $70 million or, in the view of more than a few in Ketchikan, it might be a matter of waiting on nature.

Ketchikan Public Utilities’ raw water sampling failed to meet a 90% threshold for a period of May through October. Sampling required 20 or fewer coliform per 100 milliliter sample, according to City of Ketchikan information. KPU’s sample was 89%.

As a result of that failure, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has told the city it must install a water infiltration system to meet requirements in the next 18 months.

Such a system would take time to fund, engineer, install and put on line.

So, in the meantime, the ADEC is open to the idea of negotiating what it calls a Compliance Order by Consent. City Manager Karl Amylon is proposing that the city not only negotiate a consent, but that it enlist the assistance of Jacob CH2M, an engineering firm with which it has a history, for negotiations.

The situation has been a while in the making. For 25 years, Ketchikan has avoided a water infiltration system by passing sampling tests. It has saved money over that time.

But, the piper might have to be paid now. A system would cost tens of millions and then operational costs would increase by $2 million to $3 million, according to city information.

Pursuing federal dollars would be likely. And, like one council member pointed out at that body’s most recent meeting, it would be appropriate that the feds contribute. After all, the water that is being tested is running off federal land.

The water sampling outcome also prompts the question as to whether waiting a few months might produce a different result. Ketchikan was in a drought during much of the testing period, increasing the likely concentration of impurities in the water.

With the drought over and rainfall for the year to date exceeding normal records, the rain runoff should dilute samples and provide a different percentage.

There might be a chance of that. There are other factors, as well. For example, bear, deer and mountain goat population increases might be a factor. Mountain goats were transplanted twice on the island — 17 goats in 1983 and 15 goats in 1991. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the transplants have resulted in over 200 goats.

Before the state and feds require a small community to spend millions of dollars, further exploring what the cause of the failed tests might be would be prudent.

Ketchikan might be compliant with the Drinking Water Act today.