“Storms Force School Postponement in Kivalina”

A few of us from the Re-Locate Project flew back to Anchorage from Kivalina last night to start pulling together all of the information, stories, and research from our weeklong trip to Kivalina. (Photo: aerial view of Kivalina from yesterday’s flight.) Today, for the first time in over a week, we are showered and have a reliable internet connection.

We arrived in Anchorage to this headline in the Anchorage Daily News: “Storms Force School Postponement in Kivalina.”

Kivalina is currently dealing with a severe water crisis. Due to record rainfall in August, the Wulik River, the community’s source of drinking water, is flooded. Flooding broke pipes that feed both of Kivalina’s water holding tanks (which hold about 1.5 million gallons of water and get the community through the year). Due to the flooding, the Wulik River has high levels of turbidity, making accessible river water too muddy to drink. High water in the lagoon spilled into the landfill, creating a toxic soup.

On August 18, the City of Kivalina and the Northwest Arctic Borough declared a disaster “as a result of the water and landfill situation.” On August 28, the city of Kivalina  declared additional disaster and is asking for state support.

Both of Kivalina’s water tanks now sit currently empty. Kivalina has to fill them in the narrow window of opportunity before the water begins to freeze. Emergency crews arrive this week with supplies and to help make needed repairs. (Photo: Puddle as wide as the road in Kivalina.)

In the meantime, people in Kivalina are collecting rainwater to drink and to wash. Those heading upstream to find clear water must travel many miles upstream to fetch it, which is neither practical or accessible. For one, gas for the boat costs nearly $7/gallon.

During our time in Kivalina, The Re-Locate Project hosted a local nightly radio show on CB Channel 72. We heard from one caller who joined us for a conversation about water that she goes “upstream, four river bends to find the clearest spot because the water is still muddy.” Water from her trip upriver will last her family of six only three days. Another caller spent $100 in the last week on water at the store. She has four kids and “water is an essential need for them.” Her family is not drinking the rainwater “because I don’t want to get sick,” she said. Others reported that the rainwater tasted like fuel. (Photo: Setting up for a radio show at the Boys & Girls Club.)

The Northwest Arctic Borough, the City of Kotzebue, and the Red Dog Mine all donated water to Kivalina. Will it last until the water system is restored?

Given the current water crisis in Kivalina, the school is now closed until further notice. According to the Anchorage Daily article, school superintendent Norman Eck hopes to see the school open by October 1. (Photo: McQueen School in Kivalina.) During a City Council meeting, members expressed concern that Kivalina might have to fly the children out of the village to attend school. Eck told the Anchorage Daily News that students may not earn enough credits to graduate and that younger students may need to spend another year in high school. He also said that school may need to run six days a week once it resumes to avoid such consequences.

During our short visit, we spent a bunch of time hanging out with kids, who are all looking for things to do while they wait for school to open. One of my favorite moments was catching two boys lying on their backs in the road, making snow angles in the gravel. I ran up to them to check out their prints, asking them to point out the marks made by the back of their heads and feet. Next to their body prints, I drew a whale in the gravel with my finger. A bunch of kids joined me to add birds, fish, crabs, and octopus to the scene. Once we were all done, the boys erased the gravel art with their feet. (Photo: Solomon Sage, who turned 11 yesterday.)

In a way, the timing of our visit was serendipitous. Re-Locate Project’s KVAK crew spent hours and hours teaching kids to make make films and videos about their lives in Kivalina when they otherwise would have been in school. Check out film and video projects made by Kivalina’s kids here.



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