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Nanwalek is rapidly running out of water

Daysha Eaton, KBBI News

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated how and who delivered water to the village in 2003. The village council arranged for water to be flown in from Homer and for a barge to supply water to the storage tank.

A Kenai Peninsula village is rapidly running out of water. Low snowpack and little rainfall has led Nanwalek to declare a water emergency.

The predominantly Alutiiq village on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula is only accessible by air and water. Priscilla Evans said the roughly 55 households are getting desperate as the village’s reservoir is poised to run out.

“We never made a plan for this kind of emergency for the water,” she said. “So hopefully the state is going to help us out.”

The village has tried to conserve. Water has been shut off at night. Chugachmiut, a regional non-profit, and the North Pacific Rim Housing Authority donated roughly 200 cases of water last week.

Evans said a fellow member of the village’s tribal council went looking for an alternative source. 

“He found a stream so he walked up the mountain and rerouted the stream to the dam, and that's drying up now,” she said.

The village declared a water emergency on Tuesday. But she said if there’s no significant rainfall this week, they could be completely dry by this weekend.

“It's mainly making everybody kind of worried and scared,"  she said. 

The state has issued a boil water notice.

Jamie Bjorkman is with the Department of Environmental Conservation in Soldotna. 

“I get involved when the water may not be adequately treated,” she said “Knowing that they were having low levels in their water storage tanks means that the water treatment plant and the treatment that they provide to the water may not be a completed process.”

Tribal Administrator Gwen Kvasnikoff said water pressure has been steadily dropping. So far no one has reported getting ill from the alternative sources or low pressure. But she warned that the village is on borrowed time as supplies run low. 

“Even the bottled water has been depleted,” she said. “So we do have elders that depend on water with their health issues. And then we have newborn babies here, so we were in need of water very much.”

It’s not the first time Nanwalek has had to ration water. In 2003, the village arranged for water to be flown in from Homer and a barge supplied water to the storage tank. 

Alaska’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said it is closely monitoring the situation. But the agency was noncommittal about what it plans to do if the village of 250-odd people indeed runs dry. 

Renee joined KBBI in 2017 as a general assignment reporter and host. Her work has appeared on such shows as Weekend Edition Saturday, The World, Marketplace and Studio 360. Renee previously interned as a reporter for KPCC in Los Angeles and as a producer for Stateside at Michigan Radio. Her work has earned her numerous press club awards. She holds an M.S. in journalism from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in women's studies from the University of Michigan.
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