Group pushes potable water in Salcha

Many in 1,000-person community haul their own water; finding it is tough above water table

Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SALCHA - Some folks in Salcha seem as interested as ever about getting hundreds of residents better access to potable water and, possibly, things like showers and laundry machines.

Many in the 1,000-person Salcha community, as do many living in and around Fairbanks, haul their own water, often from North Pole or a well at the nearby fairgrounds. Many also live without running water. That means no showers, no laundry.

No problem, many might say. But that hasn't stopped organizers from pushing for better infrastructure, be it a proposed public laundry site or a well for people to collect water - functions the business community in and around town could, but has yet to, establish.

The nonprofit Salcha Fair Association watched interest in its 35-foot-deep well, drilled near the Alaska Highway five years ago, balloon shortly after it was built, said Peggy Burns, the nonprofit's treasurer and past president. The nonprofit isn't in the private water-supply business and would have trouble certifying the well through state permitting processes, Burns said. But the overwhelming public interest led the organization to give people access in return for donations from those who draw water on their way home.

"We're just trying to provide for the needs of the community," she said. "Finding water is a hard thing in Salcha."

It's particularly tough in parts of town above the water table.

Residents and families who live near Johnson Road, for example, face the prospect of having to drill wells as deep as 200 or 300 feet - and shelling out thousands of dollars for the work - if they want to reach water free of arsenic and other contaminants, said Rick Swift, a specialist with Alaskan Drilling and Water Services.

"It's a roll of the dice," said Mitch Loveless, a long-time excavator in Salcha who has worked with well-drillers for years, of searching for good water in the hills near town. "There's no guarantee as to what quality of water you get."

Maurice Mills, a retired electronics technician for the Army, said a few other companies have talked about setting up a site for people to do their laundry and take showers as a public service. The closest laundry shop sits outside North Pole, a 10- or 20-minute drive away, he said.

Mills is part of the group Salcha's Neighborly Organization, which is pushing for a nonprofit-run laundry room, with showers, at what would be a publicly-owned site along the Richardson Highway. The group says it would need public or private grants to build a laundry-and-shower house. Mills said organizers will look anywhere for help, including to university researchers who they hope might help them design renewable energy generation for the project.

"Were looking at years down the road," Mills said. "In lieu of companies, nonprofits can do what a community (alone) can't do."

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