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A number of communities in Alaska spent the summer worrying they were about to run out of water. In one native village, a water crisis is leading residents to drastically question their community's future. From member station KBBI, Renee Gross has more.
RENEE GROSS, BYLINE: Nanwalek is located south of Anchorage on the Southern Kenai Peninsula. It's only accessible by boat or plane, and it's home to members of the Sugpiaq tribe. Nina Kvasnikoff stands over a large pot of water on her stovetop.
NINA KVASNIKOFF: That's boiling.
(SOUNDBITE OF POURING WATER)
GROSS: She uses a smaller pot to scoop the boiling water into a large bowl of cold water. This makes perfect water for a sponge bath, something Kvasnikoff isn't looking forward to.
N KVASNIKOFF: It doesn't feel like you're clean.
GROSS: Sponge baths are one of the many habits her family has adopted since the village began running low on water last month. Nanwalek officials started shutting the water off for 12 hours every night, and the state has issued a boil water notice.
John Kvasnicoff is Nanwalek’s chief and Nina's brother-in-law. He says the village of roughly 300 residents realized the water in its reservoir was running low about a month ago due to lack of rain and low snowpack.
JOHN KVASNICOFF: We really didn't have a plan, but then we started calling these agencies - and look; we're running out of water.
GROSS: Local agencies, communities and the borough government have flown and barged in water to the village. Kvasnicoff says the water has gotten low before, but it hasn't caused an emergency since 2003. Kvasnicoff adds that the village's growing population and old, leaky pipes aren't helping.
J KVASNICOFF: We're all in line to get a new water system to replace all the old, beat-up water line that we have now.
GROSS: He says the village is also looking at increasing the size of its reservoir and raising funds to buy a reverse osmosis machine so they can drink water from the ocean. Rick Thoman is a climatologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
RICK THOMAN: The warming climate will mean that we will want to be prepared in the future for these kind of events.
GROSS: Thoman says this summer, areas across the state have seen record heat and dryness. Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation pointed out that six communities dealt with water shortages this summer, more than any summer in recent memory.
Nanwalek resident Ivana Ash is almost as concerned about water for fish as she is about water for drinking. Ash is gutting fish near a stream while her mother catches them nearby.
IVANA ASH: I want to stay. I want to help my parents because I haven't been home for quite some time. And I would like to spend some time with the elders.
GROSS: But, she says, if she can find a job elsewhere, she'll take it.
ASH: I also do want to be in a place where there is some water where I can not feel bad about drinking it or taking a shower.
GROSS: Some Nanwalek residents, including Nina Kavinsoff, are considering moving. Kavinsoff says her Supiaq culture is deeply tied to this land. But this summer changed things for her.
N KVASNIKOFF: If this is our future of no water, what's going to happen to everybody?
GROSS: The village hopes that fall rain will bring reservoir levels back to normal. Until then, they plan to keep on boiling water. For NPR News, I'm Renee Gross in Nanwalek, Alaska.
(SOUNDBITE OF THEY MEAN US'S "ESARINTUL")
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