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Hooper Bay's sewer lagoon continues to leak as community plans a response with partners

Hooper Bay's sewer lagoon is leaking onto the surrounding tundra.
Paul Galvez
Lower Yukon School District
Hooper Bay's sewer lagoon is leaking onto the surrounding tundra.

As of Mar. 1, Hooper Bay has not been able to close the breach in its sewer lagoon wall. Any waste that residents flush down their toilets continues to flow out of the lagoon.

On Friday, Feb. 25, a wall of the community’s sewer lagoon collapsed, spilling the entire contents onto the surrounding tundra. The city issued a state of emergency that day. Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a state emergency disaster declaration the day after.

Currently, the community’s heavy equipment has no way to access the sewage lagoon to fix the breach. City Administrator Sandra Tall-Lake said that Hooper Bay owns two loaders and an excavator, but in front of the lagoon is a swampy area, full of ponds and a creek. With temperatures well above freezing this past week, that area is wet and Tall-Lake said that the heavy equipment is not able to get through.

However, the city administrator said that temperatures have dropped as of Mar. 1 and are forecast to remain below freezing this week, which could allow the heavy machinery to access the sewer lagoon in the next few days. Tall-Lake said that the community will try to move sand from the beach to fill the hole in the sewage lagoon wall. As of Mar. 1, city employees were plowing snow off the road to the beach to access the sand there.

Also on Mar. 1, Hooper Bay has a meeting scheduled with the State Emergency Operations Center, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, Alaska Municipal League, and Hooper Bay’s insurance company. In that meeting, the entities will figure out what Hooper Bay is able to do locally to fix the sewage lagoon and clean up the spill, and what it will need help with.

Hooper Bay’s sewage spill continues to grow as residents continue using their water systems. Half of the village is on piped water and sewer. Mayor Sandra Hill said that the city is not requiring those residents to stop running their water and flushing their toilets because that could potentially cause the pipes in the community to freeze, which would add another disaster onto the existing one. Plus, she said that she wasn’t sure people could make the switch to honey buckets that quickly.

Hooper Bay and its partners will need to act quickly. The spill has already entered one slough that is a vital source of subsistence foods, and Hill said that she was concerned that it could enter another slough that drains out into the bay in front of the community.

Greg Kim was a news reporter for KYUK from 2019-2022.
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