The Ketchikan Gateway Borough on Wednesday afternoon issued a "Winter Water Watch" urging residents connected to the South Tongass Water System to check for leaks and broken pipes in order to reduce load on the South Tongass water treatment plant and preempt other leaks that might develop in the next few days.

A Nixle alert went out to borough residents at 2:32 p.m. informing them that the South Tongass water treatment plant was operating "near its maximum capacity ... likely due to a combination of broken water services and customers running taps to keep them from freezing."

"Customers should verify that all heat trace tape is connected and operational and that any piping in crawl spaces is not leaking," the announcement stated. "Be sure to report any running water, particularly in crawl spaces or yards, or loss of water pressure."

Borough Public Works Director Morgan Barry explained Wednesday that the plant was not in danger of "running out of water," but that demand for water from the plant was forcing the plant to produce treated water at rates approaching its maximum permitted capacity.

"Our filters can generate high-quality water up to a certain amount," Barry explained in a phone interview Wednesday. "We don't want to exceed what we're permitted to generate, though we can for limited periods generate water in excess of what we're allowed to by permit."

"Our system is going fine," he added. "The whole purpose of that announcement was just to notify people of what they need to be looking for at their properties, giving them a contact for if they identify something that matches what we informed them about, that they can contact us and we can walk them through the process for what they need to do and what we can help them with — and then to let them know that we are near that capacity, which is not a position we want to be in."

If customers find and fix any broken service lines, it would put the borough in a better position to handle any leaks or issues with its main water pipes in that area, Barry said: "In a perfect world, everyone's service lines would be in perfect operating condition, repaired — and that way, if we ended up having any problems that happen on the mains, we wouldn't have to also be addressing a bunch of people that have broken (service) water lines."

With a spell of warmer weather forecast on Saturday, finding those leaks now is especially important, he added.

"Freeze-thaw cycles, like we are going to see in the next couple days, are exactly when we would have those main line leaks appear. And those aren't things that we can address on a permanent basis quickly," he said. "(Having) all of those demands all at once, they're just very risky for the system, and for our capability to generate high-quality water."

Per the borough announcement, South Tongass Water System customers should report any leaks or service line breaks to the borough Public Works Department. Contact information for the department can be found on the borough website at kgbak.us/144/Public-Works.