In Alaska, most households are not on a public water supply system. Instead, they either have a water tank in the house, or a water pump. In the former case, they get the water delivered by a water tank wagon like households elsewhere get their heating fuel. In the later case, a well is drilled until groundwater is hit often somewhere underneath the permafrost. Often the groundwater is connected to a river like the Chena or Tanana. The house we had rented in Goldstream had a water pump. Today, we are on public water.
Christmas Eve in Alaska
In the first two years of living in Alaska, we had guests over for Christmas Eve. In the third year, we had been at a conference for work shortly before Christmas. Thus, we had decided not to have guests. Instead, we wanted to relax, eat some homemade Dresdner Stollen and the traditional Rheinischer Kartoffel Salat (Rhine potato salad) with Wiener on Christmas Eve and go to brunch on Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, we came from work. It was a cold day with clear sky. The twinkle light decorations, stars and the Moon brought some light on the icy street and made for a very romantic sight with the snow-covered spruce in the permafrost area and on the north slopes of the Goldstream Valley. It was a quite evening with respect to traffic as well. We had already traveled about 14 miles (22.5 km) and were about 2 miles (3.2 km) from home, before we had had oncoming traffic. It was a huge truck with a long hitch loaded with drilling equipment.
“Can you imagine to drill for water in the middle of winter on a cold day like this just before Christmas?” I asked my husband. “Nope. I wonder why they drilled now and not during the warm season” he replied. We turned into a small dirt road and the headlights reflected in the eyes of a lynx looking for pray. As the road narrowed, it became dark as the high spruce blocked the moon light. We passed Mary Shield’s house and went down the trail and long curvy driveway to our house. I went in thru the garage, opened the garage door, he drove in, I closed the door, greeted the cats, and took off my coat. I went into the kitchen, took the potato salad and Wieners out of the fridge and took a pot out of the kitchen cabinet.
“What the heck is that” I said to my husband when I was purring water into the pot. “Can you change the filter? The water is all brown and muddy.” I nearly screamed to be heard. The purring of water made a loud funny bubbling noise I had never heard before. “I changed it last week” he responded. As he came around the corner into the kitchen, his face went to disgusted and then to worried. He went into the pump room and exchanged the filter.
I tried again. No change. Just brown water, bubbles and then – nothing – further brown water – pause – more muddy water – pause and so on. “What now?” “It looks like we have no usable drink water. May be the pump is frozen?” “Unlikely, the snow cover is too thick and the wind was too calm.” As if the water wanted to confirm that the pump isn’t frozen, the brown muddy water now continuously left the outlet and drained down the sink. “The drilling truck! Remember? They must have drilled and disturbed the water table! That’s why the water is brown and floats unsteadily.”
“How long do you think it will take to rest and the silt to settle down?” my husband asked me as I have a minor in geology. “I can’t say. It depends on what they had done and how far away they drilled from where our pump goes into the water table.” I responded. He looked terrified and said “Thanks goodness, we don’t have guests coming today.” “Yep, but we may be in for a Christmas without water.”
We called the management company who was in charge for the house. However, all we could do was to leave a message. We went outside with buckets and a huge baby bathing tube and filled them with snow from the yard and put them into the garage to create water to be able to wash ourselves in the morning. We also put snow in a big bowl that we put into the restroom so we could wash our hands after using the toilet. The brown water was still good for flashing the toilets. After about an hour of working on creating water supplies, I put the Wieners into the microwave to heat them hoping that one can do so. It worked. A minute later, we had our traditional Christmas Eve dinner after all.
The next morning, the water still was brown which meant no water for coffee. We gave the cats food and milk, and we were having breakfast with coke and club soda when the phone rang. It was the real estate manager. She offered us to move into a hotel until the water is clear again. We decided to stay at home and use the self-made water until after Christmas.
There is nothing better than being home for Christmas even without water.
Can you imaging not to have water at home? Would you have stayed at home or accepted to offer to move into the Marriott in downtown Fairbanks? Let me know, I am curious.
You may be also interested in reading about the frozen Christmas tree.
Photos: G. Kramm (2016)
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