A federal agency this week announced nearly $29 million will be spent to plan, build and upgrade water and sewer systems in 16 Alaska villages over the next several years.
A majority of the money will be spent on plumbing for 123 village homes where residents currently use honey buckets as toilets and collect rainwater to drink, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA is providing the grants.
Plumbing for those homes -- in Kwethluk, Toksook Bay, Eek and Lower Kalskag -- will be paid for with about $21.9 million funneled through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the USDA said. The projects are expected to be completed by 2015.
Despite decades of vows by state leaders to rid village homes of honey buckets, a lack of flush toilets and running water remains a costly health concern in many Alaska communities. A 2010 Centers for Disease Control study revealed strong links between high rates of potentially life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis and a lack of indoor plumbing.
As of April 2012, 41 communities in rural Alaska lacked village-wide plumbing, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. The Village Safe Water Program considers a village "unserved" if fewer than 55 percent of homes have a piped or closed-haul water system.
The USDA funding announced on Tuesday also includes about $6.2 million for water and wastewater upgrades for 65 homes in the Western Alaska villages of Quinhagak and Hooper Bay and planning work for Seldovia, McGrath and Tununak, the agency said.
By KYLE HOPKINS