In 1947, inhabitants of Yakutsk gained access to potable groundwater from below the permafrost layer for the first time. Owing to the presence of permafrost, Yakutsk had survived on limited water resources for centuries. Frozen earth cast doubt on the availability of groundwater and made exploratory digging difficult. The absence of wells had deleterious consequences for the health of the settled population. In the twentieth century, historical circumstances arose that redoubled efforts to develop sanitation infrastructure in Yakutsk. Establishing a reliable source of clean water in Yakutsk was a process of trial and error, with implications for environmental adaptation today.