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Village beset by water woes gets setback

Posted: September 15, 2013 - 11:01pm

ANCHORAGE — A northern Alaska village that has been plagued by shortages of treated water and money has been hit by yet another setback that turned out to be temporary — at least for now.

After a series of misfires, Kivalina finally began to fill its water-storage tanks after a regional health care nonprofit stepped forward in July to help replace a corroded transfer hose in the Inupiat Eskimo village that is perpetually strapped for cash. But recent rains have stirred up the mud in the Wulik River — the source of Kivalina’s water supply — and water pumping was halted after the village ran out of two kinds of filters this month.

The pumping was halted for a week until more filters arrived. The work resumed Thursday, but city manager Janet Mitchell said the number of filters obtained is not enough to last long with the turbidity levels in the river. She said the village has depleted $115,000 in state revenue sharing funds and doesn’t bring in enough from its bingo operations, so it can’t afford to pay for a year’s supply of filters to keep on hand.

“We don’t have any money to purchase any,” she said.

Mitchell is hoping to find help through a $50,000 village economic development grant from NANA Regional Corp., the Alaska Native corporation with Inupiat stockholders from area communities, including Kivalina. And she hopes the money comes quickly rather than later.

The grant application is going through the approval process and a decision is expected within a week, said Dolores Barr, NANA’s project manager for village economic development. She said she’s hoping the application will be approved pending final paperwork from the village that has not been received.

With winter freeze-up fast approaching, water plant manager Joseph Swan Jr. is keeping a nervous eye on the weather in Kivalina, 83 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The raw water tank is full, but he needs more than two weeks to fill the treated-water tank for the community of 400.

As far as the time goes, he said he’s crossing his fingers: “Yeah, all of them.”

Kivalina imposed strict conservation measures after its three-mile water supply pipeline was damaged by late-summer storms last year before the water tanks could be filled completely. The start of classes was delayed five weeks because the village school initially had no clean water.

The pipeline was temporarily replaced in the fall, allowing crews to start pumping water from the river.

Plenty of challenges followed, including frozen pipes that forced officials to close the washeteria, the place for showers and washing clothes. The washeteria is now open and there are no restrictions in place, but some residents continue to collect rainwater for their own use.

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