Anchorage area neighborhood forced to ration water supply

Posted: Monday, October 01, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Residents of a Peters Creek neighborhood have million-dollar views of Mount McKinley but can't let their kids flush the toilet, at least not every time. A full-tub bubble bath would be extravagant.

''It's a beautiful subdivision,'' said Larry Smith, who lives in Scimitar, high up the hillside about two miles east of the Glenn Highway.

But the municipality's piped water system doesn't extend as far north as Peters Creek, so residents drill wells. Many people's wells sometimes run low or dry.

The variable water supply creates haves and have-nots right next door to each other in Scimitar, a collection of about 90 lots and single-family houses.

Formal attempts to bring in piped city water, at a substantial cost, have failed. The community split down the middle in 1995 on the most recent vote, to bring in city water at a cost of more than $23,000 per lot.

About 43 percent voted yes or no, and the rest didn't vote.

The city is again drawing up a water proposal. A consultant is to recommend in October how the city should spend $6.8 million in federal and water utility funds in Chugiak, Birchwood and Peters Creek.

Most of the money will go to hook up public institutions, like Chugiak High School, Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility officials said. But they hope the funds will stretch to cover some costs for private property owners.

When the water runs short, life gets hard, said the Smiths' oldest daughter, Maria, 17.

''We have six people living in the house. Five of us are girls, two of us are teens,'' she said ''There have been times we could only take showers two times a week. We rotate when we do the dishes and the laundry.''

Scimitar and other pockets of development in the Chugach foothills are prone to water shortages because they're built on bedrock, said Dan Roth, a city engineer who issues residential well permits.

In the Anchorage Bowl, well drillers find water flowing under pressure through gravel seams. But in bedrock, water creeps into the wells through fractures in the rock.

The Smith family's 270-foot well was fine when they moved into their three-bedroom house 19 years ago, but the situation worsened as the subdivision grew, Smith said.

In 1985, the Smiths lowered their well pump to squeeze out more water. In 1989, they installed holding tanks to collect water from the well for later use. And in 1993, they deepened their well to 500 feet.

That worked for a year, until a neighbor drilled to 550 feet, Smith said. ''As soon as they did that, we ran out of water,'' Smith said. ''Coincidence? I don't know. They're right across the street.''

Gary Jones built a house in Scimitar two years ago. Instead of taking a $10,000 chance on a well, he installed a pair of 1,000-gallon water tanks in his garage. He hauls water about three times a week in a plastic container in the back of his pickup.

The Smiths and Jones both say they'll pay what it takes to get piped city water.

But Scimitar residents like Tamara Leitis and her parents, who have good water in their two houses and don't need any more, will scrutinize any city proposal.

''I'm not opposed to them bringing the water in,'' Leitis said. ''But I guess I don't like the fact that if they bring it in, we'll still have to pay. It's a hard call.''

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