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Relocatable Infrastructure

For communities like Kivalina who are looking for ways to relocate and spread out into their land more easily, movable and self-sufficient water and sanitation systems could be very helpful. These same systems can also be designed for use at current village sites where water and sanitation infrastructure is usually in urgent need of improvement, and they are generally far less expensive than traditional infrastructure. Decentralized and relocatable systems, like the Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge (AKWSC) system being developed by the Summit Group, can be built in existing villages planning for relocation and their owners can move with them when the time comes.

A key part of movable systems, designed to work in current and future villages, may be Urine Diverting Dry Toilets (UDDTs). Re-Locate has deployed UDDTs in Kivalina, the Summit Group included UDDTs in our AKWSC prototype design, and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) has deployed 10 UDDTs in Kivalina as part of a recent in-home water and sanitation test program. The ANTHC pilot system also features a gravity-fed in-home water system for the bathroom and kitchen where it was doable.

Nearly every family in Kivalina who volunteered to install the ANTHC pilot systems in their homes has said that they observed fewer incidents of illness after it was installed. Households with a family size of 6 are emptying the UDDT solid waste bucket about once per week as opposed to two or three times a day for honeybuckets. Far less waste is piling up outside of their homes (honeybuckets are 80 percent urine), hauling to the dump costs are greatly reduced (UDDT waste is significantly less in weight/volume than honeybucket waste), and toilet odor is virtually eliminated when the system is operating correctly.

Responses to UDDTs are generally very positive but users have also reported that several design changes would make UDDTs more appealing and work better in their homes. Almost every family we spoke to in Kivalina reported that the UDDT urine discharge pipe backed due to freeze-ups during winter. For this reason, our Water and Sewer Challenge prototype is testing urine evaporators, located within the warm envelope of the home, which would remove pipes from the ground entirely. The issue of freeze-ups would be avoided and homes would become more mobile since they would no longer be tethered to their site by pipes. Disposing of urine, and potentially wastewater, at the home is important in villages like Kivalina where there is neither a wastewater treatment plant nor a sewage lagoon. Odor management is another concern. UDDTs rely on internal fans to manage odors. When the power goes out, as it does from time to time in Kivalina, it smells. Users have been suggesting that toilets be installed with a battery backup for the fan and ventilation to keep them running during occasional outages. The plastic hardware used in the Separett Villa 9200 model we are testing has been failing in Kivalina with regular use too easily and quickly. UDDT toilets may be more reliable and sanitary if they were made from more robust materials like aluminum or stainless steel.

Although people have reported that UDDTs are far more sanitary than honeybuckets (partly to the elimination of liquids from solid waste stream), many sanitary improvements have been suggested as well. The current design stores raw waste in a plastic-lined bucket beneath the seat. When emptied, the bag is carried through the house, stored outside, and is later hauled to the dump. Users have asked us to explore ways to access UDDT solid waste from collection points outside the home. This innovation would eliminate transportation of solid human waste through the house. Those responsible for removing waste could service houses much more efficiently from the outside, and fewer individuals would need to handle equipment and waste.

In-home water storage, distribution, and recycling systems are fundamental elements of relocatable and healthy water and sanitation solutions in communities that currently haul their water. We visited several families in Kivalina to learn about ANTHC’s pilot system, how they were operating it, and to ask about any improvements they made, or would like to make. One Kivalina resident added a small electrical pump to increase water pressure to the bathroom sink (low flow is a common complaint) and mounted an electrical on-demand hot water heater to supply hot water to the bathroom sink and shower. Both are relatively simple and low-cost modifications that would greatly improve the function and experience of the ANTHC system and both are planned into the Summit AKWSC prototype in Tok.

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