Hello everyone. I went on amazing tour of The Barrow utilidor system. It is a 3.2 mile underground corridor built in 1984 by the Barrow Utilities & Electric Co-Op (known as BUECI). It was built for the transport of water, sewage, and fiber optics along with telephone, cable, and electric lines. Water is drawn from the nearby lagoon and works its way through 3 storage tanks totaling 1.5 million gallons of water. The water is treated and sent to a mixing tank where it is brought to a temperature between 50-55 degrees before being sent into the utilidor. It’s the ideal temp range to allow the water to sufficiently heat the utilidor without melting the surrounding permafrost.
We got an underground view of the system by Chief Operations Manager Yves Brower. We descended more than 12 feet underground into the permafrost and maze of circulating pipes. The utilidor was constructed from wood recovered from the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption and has a trapezoidal shape. It is 6 feet tall, 6 feet wide at the base, but only 5 feet wide at the top. The utilidors, combined with a system of direct bury piping, brings drinking water to the residents of Barrow and Browerville. The top pipe contains fresh water going to houses, the middle pipe is unused return water, and the last pipe is sewage that is pumped to the waste water treatment plant outside of town. The utilidor must continually circulate water at the ideal temperature to keep the system from freezing. I really enjoyed our behind the scenes tour and was impressed by the overall design. The 3 miles of corridor are walked every night to make sure everything is running smooth for this thriving Arctic community.