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Kivalina gets a half-dozen big water tanks as holiday present

Hannah HeimbuchThe Arctic Sounder
Freshly killed caribou litter the yard of Jerry and Becky Norton's home in Kivalina. Subsistence is an important part of the culture and the diet in this mostly Iñupiat Eskimo village. Dec 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Trash piles up outside Jeremiah Kayoulik's home in Kivalina. Kayoulik, 20 years old and unemployed, lives with his brother Warren Hawley, a 10th grader at McQueen School, and nephew Roshaun Tuzroyluke, 2nd grader at the school. Also living in the house are Kayoulik's sister and two more of her young children. Dec 12, 2012
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Russell Adams watches his infant daughters Priscilla Adams, 2 years old, and Darlene Adams, 1 year old, in his home in Kivalina. With him is Gilbert Hensley. All together, 7 people live in the tiny, 300 square foot house, including two school-aged girls. There is no running water, no space for a desk. Only a television for entertainment. Dec 10, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
McQueen School kindergartners, from left, Damian Frankson and Randy Swan, walk home after classes. Dec 11, 2012
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Julia Koonook, left, and Janelle Adams play on a computer in Janelle's house. Her mother Myra Adams manages the large village store, and her mother and father, Burt Adams, have a smaller store inside their home. Dec 10, 2012
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Christina Swan leads 5th and 6th graders in a practice of their Christmas program songs, at the Episcopal Church in Kivalina. Dec 13, 2012
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Sick with the flu, Warren Hawley, a 10th grader at Kivalina's McQueen School, doubles over in a coughing fit in his kitchen. Sleeping on a mattress are his nephews Roshaun Tuzroyluke, age 7, and McKye Swan, age 4. Dec 11, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Katrina Stalker, far right, and other McQueen School 1st graders rehearse songs for their Christmas celebration at the Kivalina Friends Church. Dec 11, 2012
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Warren Hawley, a 10th grader at McQueen School, helps his nephew Roshaun Tuzroyluke, age 7, get ready for the walk to school. Still asleep on a mattress is 4 year old McKye Swan, and sitting at the kitchen table is Hawley's brother Jeremiah Kayoulik. Dec 11, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A young student walks to school in the dark in Kivalina. Located 135 km above the Arctic Circle, when the sun sets in Kivalina on December 4 it won't rise again until January 7. Dec 12, 2012
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Children leave Kivalina's McQueen School after classes. Dec 11, 2012
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Kimberly Swan makes sure her nephew Carlos Sage, age 5, eats his breakfast at Kivalina's McQueen School. She walks with him to school most mornings. Dec 11, 2012
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High School freshman Lazarus Adams, wearing a polar bear fur ruff, walks home with a group of middle-school girls after classes at Kivalina's McQueen School. Dec 11, 2012
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High School freshman Lanette Adams, far right, leads the students and faculty in the pledge of allegiance before the start of classes at Kivalina's McQueen School. Dec 13, 2012
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4th grader Larry Swan leg wrestles with 6th grader Shannon Knox in Kivalina's McQueen School gym. Leg wrestling is a traditional Iñupiat Eskimo game, one of many that the students practice regularly. Dec 13, 2012
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Basketball trophies in Kivalina's McQueen School. Basketball is far and away the most popular sport in most rural Alaskan communities. The McQueen Quavviks girls basketball team were state champions in 1992-1993. Dec 13, 2012
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Karen Adams, 11th grader, top, does geometry homework with 9th grader Louise Wesley in the McQueen School hallway. Dec 12, 2012
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First-year teacher Sara Schneider, originally from Vancouver, Washington, tutors 4th grader Lillian Hawley, far left, in math during an after-school study session at Kivalina's McQueen School. With them are 6th grader Shannon Knox and 5th grader Solomon Sage. Dec 13, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
From left, 9th graders George Hawley and Samuel Hawley relax in the Kivalina's McQueen School hallway after classes. Dec 12, 2012
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4th grader Joslyn Swan wishes her teacher Sara Schneider, a first-year teacher originally from Vancouver, Washington, a happy birthday on the eve of Schneider's birthday. Dec 13, 2012
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50 mph winds scour the village of Kivalina, bringing a windchill of -40. Dec 12, 2012
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The pledge of alliance, translated into Iñupiaq, on the wall of the special education classroom in Kivalina's McQueen School. Dec 12, 2012
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From left, McQueen School 9th graders Kevin Hawley and Samuel Hawley walk home after classes. Dec 12, 2012
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A Bering Air flight buzzes the village of Kivalina before landing on the dirt runway. In the summer barges bring bulk fuel and construction equipment, but in the winter airplanes are the only means of transportation. Most supplies, including food, mail, and medicine, arrive by plane. Dec 11, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Kivalina's new stone seawall, installed in 2011, has helped protect the village from storms, keeping erosion at bay for now. The village, located on a barrier island off of Alaska's Chukchi Sea coast, has lost over half of its land during the lifetime of many of the village's elder residents. Dec 12, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
The Iñupiat Eskimo village of Kivalina sits on a narrow barrier island off Alaska's Chukchi Sea coast. A new stone seawall has helped curb erosion from winter storms, but it is only a stopgap, at some point in the near future the village will have to move. Dec 11, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A map in the Kivalina City Hall shows possible relocation sites, outlined in black. While plans to move the village have been talked about for almost 30 years, the cost is prohibitive, and no progress has been made. Current U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates are almost $400 million to move the community. Dec 13, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Oran Knox fishing for cod on the sea ice near Kivalina. Dec 10, 2012
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Bowhead whale bones greet visitors to the town of Kivalina, Alaska. Located 85 miles above the Arctic Circle, when the sun sets on December 4 it won't rise again until January 7. Dec 10, 2012
Loren Holmes photo

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Kivalina may have gotten an unconventional Christmas present this year, but a welcome one nonetheless.

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In the midst of the holidays, six 275-gallon water tanks arrived in the northwestern village via air carrier. They were donated by Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 367 of Anchorage, and transported at half-cost by Ryan Air and Northern Air Cargo.

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The delivery represents the next step for Kivalina in reinstating a regular water supply, which was interrupted when fall storms damaged the pipe used to fill the community’s water tank.

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Due to those and other technical difficulties over a long fall, Kivalina’s winter water quota wasn’t filled before the big freeze came in. The community has been on severe restrictions ever since — conserving water by limiting washeteria use to two days a week (rather than six) and encouraging citizens to get their own water from ice melt and from the Kivalina River.

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While they appreciate all those that have supplied their own drinking water, said city administrator Janet Mitchell, not all residents have the transportation and ability to retrieve their own and are reliant on the tank supply.

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Community and borough leaders have been brainstorming and raising funds toward a solution all season, said Mitchell, trying to fill the tanks and get the community off restrictions.

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Kivalina water plant manager Joe Swan is hard at work this week finishing and insulating a 26-foot sled that will haul the donated tanks, via bulldozer, to the Wulik River. From there, they’ll use an extended auger to drill into the river ice and pump water into the tanks.

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If they can do this without equipment breaking down, and without the water freezing inside the plastic containers, they can be emptied into the holding tanks and treated for community use. Mitchell hopes they’ll be ready to head to the river within a week. While many big hurdles have been overcome thus far, the community could still use help paying for fuel and other supply expenses, Mitchell said.

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None of the Kivalina residences have running water, but the community does use the washeteria for laundry and showers and to refill home supply. The school maintains running water, and has also been working hard to conserve its usage, Mitchell said.

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The idea to donate the tanks came from Plumbers and Pipefitters member Michael Carey.

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“People have good ideas all time but unless they act on them it’s just an idea not an action,” Carey said. “It was really a lot of people coming together.”

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Various public and private aid sources have come together to help Kivalina here and there over the last few months, some as far away as Minnesota. Churches in that state donated $1,600 after the August storms to help fun the water treatment system.

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The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Northwest Arctic Borough assisted with a temporary repair of the water pipeline that pumps water from the Wulik during the warmer months.

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The community worked hard just to get to the point where the school could open, which delayed the school year start by a month this fall. Mitchell said she hopes this next effort will get Kivalina closer to a normal routine.

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Hannah Heimbuch can be reached at hheimbuch(at)reportalaska.com

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CORRECTION:  An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Northern Air Cargo.