Kivalina's water plant manager is building a 26-foot sled to transport six large portable containers to the Wulik River and collect water directly from a hole drilled through the ice, village administrator Janet Mitchell said. Also coming to the Arctic community are repairs to a small generator for the on-site pumping. Mitchell said the idea is to use a village dozer or dump truck to tow the 275-gallon containers and pumping system to the river, then tow the filled containers to the water plant for treatment.
Mitchell said she's feeling optimistic about the plan.
"I'm pretty sure it can work provided the system doesn't freeze," she said.
Kivalina fell into its water crisis after the local water-supply pipeline was damaged by late summer storms before the community's two water tanks could be filled completely.
The heavy duty plastic containers for getting more water were donated by the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 367 in a humanitarian effort coordinated by union member Michael R. Carey of Anchorage, 625 miles southeast of community. Carey said he was inspired to do something after learning in November that some Minnesota churches had raised money to help the Inupiat Eskimo community of 400.
His reaction was, "Why aren't we doing something here locally?"
He called up a Palmer-based representative of Freedom Industries and asked if the chemical treatment supplier would donate the cube containers that are used to store chemicals. The representative, Ron Harvey, said yes, and Carey and others worked on logistics. An air cargo carrier agreed to fly the containers from Anchorage to the commercial hub town of Kotzebue. From there another carrier flew the containers 80 miles northwest to Kivalina.
Both carriers provided the transportation at half price. The union kicked in the other half of the cost, which came to about $1,900, Carey said. He also sent some sanitizing wipes for people to use on their hands.
"I feel really good," the semi-retired plumber said. He's talked to Mitchell and the water plant manager and feels "like, oh man, it's getting close."
Mitchell said the village would welcome any kind of donations to deal with its water woes, which led to the five-days-a-week closure of the local center for showers and washing machines. Homes there have never had running water.
"That was great," Mitchell said of Carey's successful efforts. "It was very good of him."
The donations from the Minnesota churches after the damaging August storms totaled at least $1,600 that was used to run the Inupiat Eskimo community's water treatment system.
Other partners, including the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Northwest Arctic Borough, coordinated efforts that led to the temporary repair of the three-mile pipeline that pulls water for the village from the Wulik.
Kivalina has two big storage tanks that hold a total of about 1.2 million gallons. When full, that's a six-month supply of water used for everything from drinking to cooking to bathing. But Kivalina has only July and August to fill the tanks before the pipeline freezes or the river gets too icy.
Last year, the village was ready to fill the tanks but lacked the necessary funds for labor and the fuel to run the water transferring system. Then came the heavy storms, which flooded Kivalina's landfill and broke the pipe in places, leaving the village school without clean water. The start of classes was postponed for five weeks.
Gov. Sean Parnell declared a disaster in September because of the storms, making state funds available for pipeline repairs.
But freezing temperatures arrived when the village had pumped only about half the water that could fit in its tanks for treated and untreated water. Kivalina currently has a six-month supply of treated water, but only at the current usage.
That means severe restrictions remain in place. A few villagers also have taken it upon themselves to collect ice to melt for their own use. The washeteria, the place for showers and washing clothes, is open only two days a week now instead of the usual six. Showers also are off-limits at the school, which does have its own water and sewer systems.