Nanwalek forced to ship in bottled water due to drought

Nanwalek Sunset-Kilann Tanapee 3-22-18
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Aluutiq village of Nanwalek has taken the meaning of drought in Alaska to a new level.

Compounding a low snow melt from this spring, the village experienced a nearly historic low rainfall over the past few months that has dried up the mountain-water-filled dam that provides for the village of about 250 forcing emergency air-shipments of bottled water from Anchorage.

The average rainfall for June in Seldovia, the nearest weather station, is 1.3 inches. This year, they got .01 inches, according to Weather Underground data. Those below-average numbers continued in July, and have held up in August so far.

That’s required the Chugachmiut, the regional non-profit association, to send deliveries of water.

“We had four pallettes flown in last Thursday,” said Gwen Kvasnikoff, the tribal administrator of Nanwalek. “We’re getting two more flown in.”

Earlier in the summer, the Pacific Rim Housing Authority barged in several more cases to make up for the dwindling supply.

But plastic water bottles haven’t been able to cover the village’s normal water usage -- they’re also taking steps to reduce consumption. The village is shutting down the water every night at 9 p.m. and not turning it back on until 9 a.m. Villagers are washing less, and avoiding watering lawns.

“Everybody’s on notice to wash just once, and take shorter showers,” said Kvasnikoff.

Still, she says, the village is taking it the challenge in stride.

“They’re doing the best they can,” she said. “Everybody’s handling it the best we can.”

Tribal Chief John Kvasnikoff said that distributing the water has gone smoothly so far, and there is no shortage.

“Everybody’s guaranteed some water,” he said. “We let the elders get a couple of cases of water first, and each household gets a couple of cases.”

Looking into the future, however, there doesn’t seem to be much relief. A light rainfall fell on Tuesday, but Chief Kvasnikoff said that the parched ground soaked in most of the moisture, keeping the dam from being replenished.

“It’s not completely dry, there’s a little bit,” he said. “The rain helped fill it a little, but it’s drying back up.”

He described a drain about a foot and a half above the bottom of the dam. On Monday, the water level had just about fallen below that drain. Now it’s back up above the drain, but only barely.

Kvasnikoff said that a similar situation occurred in 2004, but this year the community has the added burden of heavy smoke from Kenai Peninsula fires, which has prevented kids from playing outside.

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