A sign welcomes people to Craig on Prince of Wales Island. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Crews in Prince of Wales Island’s largest community are working to restore service after a water outage that began Sunday. City officials in Craig issued a boil water notice on Sunday after water pressure plummeted, leaving some residents with dirty water, and others, with nothing.

City officials say crews were working Tuesday to get the system’s pressure up high enough to take bacterial samples. Clear samples could allow the city to lift the notice by March 12, but they won’t end the problems at Craig’s drinking water treatment plant.

By Tuesday morning, Craig Public Works crews had one of four so-called “treatment trains” running normally and were working to bring another back online, after Sunday’s outage.

City Administrator Brian Templin said crews are working to clear clogged filters. 

“The second train that they replaced the media in, they ran the first backwash last night and are expecting to run … the second backwash this morning,” he explained. “Once the second backwash has been run, then they can start producing water and putting it into the system from that train.”

He said that with two trains working, that’ll allow the system’s pressure to rise.

After that, crews can start collecting water samples to test for bacteria like E. coli. Templin said that could begin as soon as Wednesday. They’ll send those to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“Right now, we expect that when the second treatment train gets fully online today that we will get water in the system and get the system up to the pressure by late this afternoon or this evening,” he said. “And that’ll put us in a position to take our water samples tomorrow and send them off to the lab.”

Those samples need to come back clean before the boil water notice can end. 

Craig city officials announced the notice Sunday evening, warning residents to boil their water for at least two minutes before using it for drinking, cooking or teeth-brushing. Templin said the notice was put in place because when water pressure levels drop too far, it allows contaminants in the system. 

The outage has shuttered tribal offices, schools, the public library, youth center, and pharmacy. The DEC requires boil water notices when water pressure drops below 20 pounds per square inch.

“After repairs/maintenance has been completed we will collect three special total coliform bacteria and send them to a certified lab for analysis,” an announcement from the city reads. “If any of the samples are positive for total coliform or E.coli bacteria, we will work to disinfect the water system, flush it, and collect additional samples to verify our system is free from bacterial contamination.”

But it could be a while before all four treatment trains are running normally. Two are only partially working, and Templin said they’ll need to order new filters to return to full capacity.

“And so we’ll be working through a project to order and replace the filter media on those two other treatment trains,” he said.

Templin said it’s unclear when those parts might arrive.

City officials released an update Tuesday calling for water conservation.

“IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE that even when the boil water notice is lifted, it is imperative that residents continue to conserve water as much as possible,” the notice reads. “We do not want to drain the system and bring the system pressure below the required minimum again or we will be forced to issue a new boil water notice.  Please do not use excessive water trying to flush your systems until advised by the city.  When we issue the notice lifting the boil water notice, we will provide information on the best way to flush the discolored water from the system while maintaining minimum pressure in the distribution network.”

Templin said that the plant had been “nursing” a problem with clogged filters for a few weeks. He explained crews had been gearing up to fix the problem when pressure fell. 

Craig Tribal Association offices were open for residents to claim one case of water per household, until supplies run out on Tuesday. Craig City School District schools were closed on Monday and were using remote learning methods on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are scheduled teacher inservice days, and depending on how the situation unfolds, students could be back in the classroom Monday. The Craig Public Library is closed until further notice, as is Whale Tail Pharmacy.

Raegan Miller is a Report for America corps member for KRBD. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution at KRBD.org/donate.