Kake struggles for water supply

Town's hatchery to lose $3 million because of water shortage

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2000

KAKE -- A few hundred yards from the hole torn through this small community's dam, thousands of salmon thrash in the shallows near a hatchery that cannot hold all their valuable eggs for lack of a reliable water supply.

At the dam itself, workmen keep constant watch over a makeshift arrangement of hoses, pumps and plywood that keeps water flowing into the town's homes and businesses.

Kake is scrambling for fresh water, and will be for some time.

The trouble started more than a week ago when rain-swollen Gunnuk Creek carried an uprooted tree into the aging wooden dam with such force that it punched a grapefruit-sized hole through its face. The flow of water tore at the edges of the breach until it was big enough to drain the reservoir behind the dam.

``When it went, it was just like crashing thunder going over,'' said John Anderson, one of the operators of the town's water treatment plant.

Taps went dry all over town. The fish processing plant shut down. And the hatchery -- the town's economic lifeblood -- was left dangerously dry in the midst of its annual harvest of roe and milt from chum salmon.

By early this week, a jury-rigged system had water flowing to houses and the fish-processing plant. The hatchery was limping along on a single pump that pulls water directly out of the creek.

Now the community is looking for both short and long-term solutions -- and money to pay for them. Gov. Tony Knowles, who toured Kake's dam and hatchery Wednesday, has authorized as much as $500,000 in state disaster funds, but that won't be nearly enough in the long run.

``We need a stable water supply,'' said Steve Andison, general manager of the Gunnuk Creek Hatchery, which requires 900 gallons of water a minute to keep millions of infant salmon alive until they're big enough to release next spring.

After loggers cleared much of the land around Kake, the town's economy has come to focus on the hatchery, Mayor Lonnie Anderson said. Begun as a high school project, the hatchery now employs more than a dozen people and produced a run of more than 500,000 fish last year.

Because of the dam breach, the hatchery will fall far short of its goal of 75 million eggs. The nonprofit organization stands to lose $3 million, Andison said, and local fishermen are in for a lean year a few years from now.

That leaves Kake with a three-stage problem -- stabilize the patchwork system now pumping water into city pipes, find a temporary way to channel enough water to the hatchery, and replace the dam.

It could cost $250,000 to improve the temporary system providing chlorinated drinking water. Another $400,000 is needed to build a temporary dam to supply untreated river water for the hatchery. And a permanent solution involves a $3.1 million project to pipe water from nearby Alpine Lake, which is already under construction.

But the pipeline won't be finished for at least six months and it was intended to supplement the dam, not replace it.

In the long term, Kake's leaders hope to replace the dam originally built by the federal government in the 1950s. The price tag on that project: about $5 million.

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