Southcentral village runs out of water

Posted: Sunday, August 03, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The remote Kenai Peninsula village of Nanwalek started flying in plastic jugs of water Thursday after kitchen taps in village homes sputtered and went dry.

A drought in July, following a winter with little snow, has emptied the new storage tanks in a water system installed less than two years ago.

Conservation and rationing gave way to extreme measures as the village tribal council bought drinking water from a store in Homer and distributed gallon jugs two per household starting with elders and families with babies.

''We're just getting into August, and we're completely bone dry,'' said village council member Sally Ash. Similar problems, though not so severe, plagued the village last summer.

Nanwalek is a community of about 230 on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula 10 miles southwest of Seldovia.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which installed the new $1.8 million water system with state and federal funds, was scrambling Friday to find a way to deliver emergency drinking water by boat.

''The climate has changed recently,'' said engineer Lee Hubbard, an engineer with the tribal health group. He said dry conditions around Nanwalek have held for several years.

Villagers have been keeping clean by swimming in English Bay Lake, a mile's four-wheeler run up the valley, where they frequently meet black bears drawn by the local salmon run. Others are hauling lake water for steam baths, said council Chief Emilie Swenning.

The council is laying plans to haul water from the lagoon behind the village to houses for use in flushing toilets, she said. Water would be removed at low tide, when it is freshest, she said.

The summer has been wetter than usual in the Susitna Valley and Prince William Sound but relatively dry on the western Kenai Peninsula, said National Weather Service forecaster Victor Proton. Homer and Seldovia had just half their normal precipitation in July, he said.

The dryness is compounded by warm temperatures up and down Cook Inlet. Anchorage had its second-warmest July ever, Proton said.

The existing village water system catches runoff from a mountain drainage directly above Nanwalek. From a small impoundment basin, water feeds into a treatment plant and then into two storage tanks with a combined capacity of about 200,000 gallons, Hubbard said.

On Friday, the tribal consortium and council were looking at ways to store drinking water hauled in by boat from Homer. Possibilities include using large bladders on the village beach or pumping it up to the tanks, Hubbard said. Among the unanswered questions is who would pay for such a relief effort.

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