The communities of Seldovia and Nanwalek were running out of water this past week, prompting the Kenai Peninsula Borough on Thursday to issue a local disaster declaration.
Little rainfall during this year’s warm, dry summer rapidly depleted some public water supplies in the City of Seldovia and Native Village of Nanwalek, the borough said.
It became particularly bad in recent weeks, local officials with both communities said Friday. They shipped in pallets of water jugs, asked residents to limit their water use and hoped this weekend would bring more than just a sprinkle of rain.
“If it rains once, we’re not out of the woods because it’s been so dry so the ground is just going to soak that in,” said Seldovia city manager Cassidi Cameron.
Parts of the state are also parched. Anchorage, a northern portion of the Kenai Peninsula and a section of Southeast Alaska around Ketchikan were in an extreme drought this week — the second-highest drought designation, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
On the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik Lagoon was also in the middle of a water shortage this week, public radio station KDLG reported. The community’s wells were completely dry.
In Seldovia, a city across Kachemak Bay from Homer, there hadn’t been enough rain or snow melt to replenish water levels in the reservoir.
“It’s like a bank account, and you’re spending your bank account down and you don’t have any income coming in,” Cameron said.
Between June 1 and Aug. 29, Seldovia recorded 1.25 inches of rain, about 5 inches below normal, according to the National Weather Service.
About 230 people live year-round in Seldovia and get their water piped from the reservoir. So do local businesses and the school, Cameron said.
By Thursday, there was enough water in the reservoir to last the city about 16 days with the current conservation efforts in place, she said.
Those efforts included moving up a scheduled repair of a leak in the water system, limiting library hours and shutting down the school pool, she said.
The school’s automatic flush toilets were also turned to manual flushing. Restaurants started using disposable plates and utensils, and the city’s senior meal delivery program was put on hold. There wasn’t enough water to wash the dishes and clean the facility to standards, Cameron said.
Also, the city requested that residents limit water use in their homes. That meant shorter showers, fewer loads of laundry and turning off the faucet while brushing teeth.
“Every drop counts,” Cameron said.
Seldovia is only accessible by water and air, so it’s bringing in jugs of water by boat.
So is Nanwalek, a village southwest of Seldovia and near the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula.
Water levels got so low in the dam that feeds Nanwalek’s water system that the village shut off water from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., said Jerry Demas, Nanwalek’s maintenance and utilities manager.
“We hardly got any snow last year,” Demas said. “And then, no rain.”
More than 300 people live in Nanwalek, Demas said. Lagoon water was being provided to residents to use to flush their toilets. The village also remained under a boil water notice from the state, Demas said Friday.
The village, normally rainy this time of year, was dry and dusty early Friday, he said. The lack of rain was apparent in other ways too.
“We noticed with the berries, when you go to pick them, they’re shriveled up,” Demas said.
By Friday afternoon, Demas and Carpenter finally saw what they and their neighbors had hoped for: Rain.
“We are finally getting some showers,” Demas wrote in an email.
Nanwalek will need three to five days of “a good, hard rain” to build back its water supply, Demas said.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s disaster emergency declaration on behalf of Seldovia and Nanwalek initiates a request for a state disaster declaration. The borough is asking the state to help keep both communities supplied with water.
Last week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a disaster declaration for the Matanuska-Susitna and Kenai Peninsula boroughs to provide aid to those affected by the wildfires.
More than 700 firefighters on Friday were battling the Swan Lake fire on the Kenai Peninsula. Lightning sparked the fire in early June. It has grown to more 162,000 acres, bolstered by dry and warm weather.
Cameron said she hoped for rain this weekend for the whole Kenai Peninsula, including where the fire burns.
“It would clear up a lot of our struggles," she said.