KWETHLUK, Alaska – Following the sinking, and resulting entrapment under the ice, of the barge Delta Chief, residents here in Kwethluk have been forced to import 7,600 gallons of drinking water, at a rate of $.25 a gallon, due to a tainted water supply. Following the incident in October, “There was some sort of petroleum product showing up in the traditional watering hole,” Mayor Boris Epchook told Channel 2 News. “The majority of the residents use that water from across the river here.”
The barge went down in the Kwethluk River, not far from where it meets the Kuskokwim River. The Delta Chief is operated by Faulkner Walsh Contractors, and was anchored at the time it began taking on water on Oct. 4. While the barge itself wasn’t carrying any fuel, some of the equipment aboard had as much as 200 gallons of diesel in the tanks, and there were lubricants and hydraulic fluid spilled as well.
At the time, boom was put out, and clean up began. However, an early freeze made salvage impossible and some of the 600 residents of the village here began becoming sick not long afterward. There are also now concerns about how the salmon catch will be affected and whether fish caught during ice wishing this winter might be contaminated. Further, equipment trapped on the sunken barge may be damaged by the ice and distribute yet more petroleum products downstream.