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Assembly approves filtration for Salmon Creek drinking water

Posted: January 13, 2013 - 1:10am

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly has approved a municipal water plan that attempts to prepare for the potential of an AJ Mine and continued community growth.

The plan includes projects for Juneau’s Salmon Creek and Gold Creek water supplies.

Both sources are considered high quality.

While Gold Creek is treated only with Chlorine, Salmon Creek receives chlorine treatment as well as the addition of soda ash to balance the water’s pH. This costs around $15,000 a year for ash and labor.

Salmon Creek also has turbidity problems and must be shut down often multiple times a year. Making Salmon Creek a secondary water source. The addition of a 4-million-gallons-per-day water filtration system could allow for year-round operation.

Currently Juneau draws as much as 2 million gallons per day from Salmon Creek with water rights that would allow up to 10 MGPD. Such a facility could be run for around $150,000 a year, according to CBJ staff.

Passage of Resolution 2620 by the assembly on Jan. 7 adopts the Municipal Drinking Water Supply Plan and directs City Manager Kim Kiefer to being planning and design of a Salmon Creek filtration system.

Several factors go into CBJ‚s efforts to continue expansion of the Salmon Creek source.

As more cruise traffic funnels through Juneau the city’s water supply will be expected to meet higher and higher demands from summer businesses, cruise passengers and cruise ships. Population is also expected to rise in the state’s capital city. In the last several years Juneau has experiences a jump in its population of nearly 2,000 — putting 2012 population numbers on par with Department of Labor projections for 2020.

There is also the prospect of an AJ Mine. If the mine is redeveloped, the mine operator would be expected to divert a flow of water that currently exits the mine in Last Chance Basin. This would somewhat deplete the total flow into Juneau’s Gold Creek well field.

Public testimony included both support and opposition to the plan. The common thread through all testimony was the desire to maintain Juneau’s high quality water supply. While some saw the plan as securing Juneau’s water, others saw the inclusion of AJ Mine contingencies as an additional threat and cost.

Tom Brice, president of the Juneau Building Trades Council, testified at the Jan. 7 meeting. He was joined in his support of the resolution by members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, local Operating Engineers, UA Plumbers, Ironworkers and Plumber and Pipefitters who were in the crowd.

Brice said his organization was very concerned that Juneau secure a sufficient supply of safe viable water.

“Not just now but into the future,” Brice said.

The municipal water plan does not adequately address the city’s water needs, Margo Waring said in her testimony. It does not contain a rational for multi-million dollar redundancy to the water system, she said, and does not contain the effects of the projects on taxpayers.

Waring also said not enough is known to document a current increase in demand that would necessitate expansion of the water supply. She said the city presented filtration as the preferred option for Salmon Creek when no other option was presented.

Waring said the money could be better spent.

“Why are we building a redundant system when our current system needs maintenance,” Waring said.

University of Alaska geophysics professor Roman Motyka testified that maintenance is the most important need for Juneau’s water supply.

The Gold Creek well field needs rehabilitation as well as much of the infrastructure that supports the well field, Motyka said. Salmon Creek’s dam is 100 years old and sedimentation and recent landslide have reduced the carrying capacity of the reservoir, he said.

Guy Archibald mining and clear water coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Archibald said he was concerned that Juneau’s water plan remains coupled too closely with redevelopment of the AJ Mine.

“This all started with the advisory committee that identified that the threats to the drinking water supply was the major stumbling black to promoting the AJ Mine,” Archibald said.

“All of these threats (to Juneau’s water supply) that were identified were related to mining,” Archibald said. “It would seem that this rather quick push to build a redundant water system seems to be is primarily to promote the AJ mine.”

If the water system improvements are primarily for the AJ Mine, Archibald said, maybe a potential AJ Mine operator should foot the bill.

“There will be a lot more threats than clean water,” Archibald said.

Mayor Merrill Sanford said the goal of increased water supply is necessary because the city is already taxing its Last Chance Basin wells. Juneau is also selling a larger and larger volume of water to the cruise ship industry.

Assembly Member Karen Crane said she felt there had not been enough public discussion on the issue of Juneau’s water supply. She said she would also like to see the plan decoupled from development of the mine.

“We would save ourselves if we put more time and effort into this,” Crane said.

Assembly Member Randy Wanamaker disagrees. He said much public discussion and hearings on the matter have already taken place.

The plan, Wanamaker said, developed out of another project that looked into adequate water supply for both fire protection and drinking water — he reminded those present of the recent fire at the Gastineau Apartments.

Wanamaker said he started his professional career analyzing water quality and aquifer protection.

The plan is more conceptual and less detailed Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl said.

During the peak summer usage when seafood plants process fish and cruise visitors and ships are use the most water “we are overtaxing the wells that we have now,” Kiehl said.

Kiehl said Juneau should focus on the 3.9-million-gallon Salmon Creek reservoir before turning to the roughly 300-million-gallon Gold Creek aquifer.

“The future growth over the long term is better served by beginning to develop a filtration system for that massive reservoir at Salmon Creek,” Kiehl said.

The assembly voted seven to two to pass Resolution 2620 with Assembly Members Crane and Loren Jones casting the no votes.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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