Skip to main content

Climate-adapted sanitation project on schedule in Kivalina

July 10, 2015

ANTHC’s Environmental Health and Engineering work focuses on bringing health solutions to rural communities through access to clean water that supports health and well-being. For many homes and communities, this is possible through upgrades and improvements to water and wastewater systems. For communities without existing systems, new construction may not be available due to environmental challenges, decreasing availability of capital funding or the high cost of operation. In these cases, alternatives must be tailored to the environmental conditions, homeowner needs, existing community infrastructure, individual financial capacity and technical capabilities. A demonstration project underway in Kivalina is focused on addressing these issues to deliver the basic sanitation needs of our people and test new systems for Alaska’s northern coastal communities.

Kivalina, a community of 400 residents and 85 homes, is located approximately 80 air miles from Kotzebue. The impacts of climate change have been extensive in Kivalina, affecting all areas of life. Erosion processes are happening more quickly due to the impacts of climate change, which include permafrost thaw, more intense storms, and delays in winter coastal ice formation.

Some funding agencies have been reluctant to invest in infrastructure within the community because Kivalina has intentions to relocate as well as the ongoing vulnerability to flooding and erosion. Currently, there are no definitive plans or funding to relocate. In the meantime, there are deficiencies in sanitation that must be addressed in order to provide a healthier environment for residents. The community operates a self-haul system for water supply and waste disposal. This exposure to raw sewage places the community members at risk for waterborne pathogens. While the plans to relocate continue, it is imperative that the residents receive basic services that will improve community health and quality of life.

The biggest drawbacks of typical piped water and sewer systems are that they are not portable, they are expensive to construct, and in some locations, they are not feasible for various reasons. In addition, it is difficult to protect a piped system from a major storm surge or climate change impacts. ANTHC is working with residents in the community of Kivalina to construct a small number of systems that are entirely homeowner-based and are designed to address the most basic sanitation needs. A rain catchment system will be used to supplement water demands. Each system can be modified to fit the needs of the owner, and they can be moved with the community to the new location.

To date, the project is making substantial progress. Fabrication of both water and wastewater modules are complete with the modules now located at the ANTHC shipping yard in Anchorage. A system mockup is being completed this week in order to minimize any impacts encountered in the field during assembly of the components. Since this is a new system, the mockup will help reduce construction costs and field work and provide a learning opportunity for future project innovations. Construction is scheduled to begin on July 20 with completion expected to occur in early September. The training of the Kivalina system recipients will begin in the middle of August and will finish in early September.

Share this story

Sign Up For Our Newsletter