Lack of rain, thin snowpack causes water woes for Kodiak village

Posted: Monday, July 30, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The mention of Kodiak usually conjures up rainy weather. But on the southern tip of the island, months of low rainfall and a poor winter snowpack have left the village of Akhiok so dry that only murky brown water and sand fleas come from faucets.

Hemmed in by Gulf of Alaska salt water, residents in the past month have had to go farther and farther for water to drink.

A reservoir that usually holds more than a month's worth of water has been reduced to less than half a day's supply by lack of rain. Akhiok has become dependent on planes and boats for water.

Businesses in the city of Kodiak a hundred miles away donated gallon jugs of water, and the municipality sent 5-gallon plastic jerry cans for carrying water. When it's too windy for planes to land, villagers set out in skiffs to a cannery 15 minutes away to get water, but the cannery is running dry too.

All of Kodiak Island is dry this year, according to borough official Paul Carlson. ''That's one of our little secrets.''

Receding glaciers 10,000 years ago left a rocky surface that absorbs little moisture. Even though the Akhiok area receives 35 to 40 inches of rain annually, Carlson said, ''it's like raining on a plate; the water runs off pretty quick.''

The town of 25 or 30 houses is tucked between a 500-foot-high ridge of bedrock and a small cove.

''What compounds the problem put there is that the drainage basin that collects the rainfall is extremely tiny,'' said Randy Muth, an engineer from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium who was sent to Akhiok in early July to examine the problem and come up with solutions. ''So any lack of rainfall affects their water situation dramatically.''

Many small rural communities in Alaska lack good water and sanitation facilities, Muth said. ''You can travel to these communities, and their water situation is like a Third World country.''

Alaskans typically use 100-120 gallons of water per day for cooking, drinking, washing and flushing toilets, Muth said. That means that Akhiok, with about 100 summer residents, needs about 10,000 gallons every day. But the reservoir has only about 5,000 to 6,000 gallons, even after recent rains.

''From a health perspective, they should not be using that water at all, it's of such poor quality,'' Muth said.

Villagers say they have no choice.

Village public safety officer Speridon Simeonoff said his family uses the water, mixed with a little bit of Clorox, to wash dishes. They also use it to fill toilets.

Village health aide Luba Eluska fears the village doesn't have enough water to fight a fire. ''There's running water, but it's very, very slow. There wouldn't be enough pressure.''

Muth mentioned a number of possible solutions, but nothing will come cheap or soon. Drilling a well through bedrock may not work because the bedrock prevents water from percolating to layers below. Expanding the reservoir, his preferred solution, couldn't be accomplished until the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium seeks funding in fall.

So for now, Akhiok waits for rain and the people try to make do.

''I'd like to see it declared a disaster and send in a barge with some 10,000-gallon bladders of water,'' Muth said. ''As long as we can keep some potable water going in, that's a good thing, but it gets spendy.''

Subscribe to Peninsula Clarion

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us