Situated on a small island – the Chukchi Sea to the west, a lagoon and the mouth of the Wulik river to the east – Kivalina is surrounded by water. Potable water on the other hand is not so accessible in this Arctic town. When we arrived in late August 2012 Kivalina faced a severe lack of potable water due to another heavy storm in the area of NW arctic Alaska.
See: Residents collecting the remaining water in one of the water tanks
According to „Alaska Community Database. Community Information Summaries (CIS)“ there is an average annual precipitation of 8.6 inches of rain per year. The storm described before resulted in a flood caused by the same amount of rain water falling within 7 days.
An article of „The Arctic Sounder“ published on August 23, 2012 gives slightly different numbers, the urgency of the situation is evident in both reports: „A week of heavy rain saw portions of Northwest Alaska receive in excess of seven inches of precipation, in areas that normally experience only about 15-20 inches of rain annually.“
Part of the pipe system that is usually connected to a pump that fills water to Kivalina´s water storage system is ruined. Besides the broken pipe, the high water caused by the storm also reached the local landfill. This is a threat to the water quality as there is no sewage system in Kivalina outside of the School, the local clinic and the washeteria. The people of Kivalina are using so-called „Honeybuckets“: plastic buckets with a toilet seat. The human waste goes to a plastic bag that is being exchanged when full. Together with the solid waste it all ends up at the landfill which is situated on the same island. See Google Map for Location of Landfill
Now, the water tanks need to be filled which needs to happen before freeze-up. This would provide the village with potable water for a period of 12 months. There are only couple of weeks left to do so. On August, 29th 2012 the village had to declare a disaster for a second time within a couple of days in relation to the very same issue of not being able to fill their water reservoir in time. See: Declaration of Disaster