This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough issued a local disaster declaration Thursday on behalf of the City of Seldovia and Native Village of Nanwalek, which have both been experiencing water shortages due to drought conditions on the peninsula.
The communities of Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake and Tatilek are also reporting water shortages and boil water advisories.
Nanwalek, which has been taking steps to conserve water and is relying on a rapidly diminishing bottled water supply, will be out of water by Friday, according to the declaration.
The Nanwalek IRA Council declared a State of Emergency due to the impending lack of water for the community on Tuesday.
Nanwalek faces water shortages every summer, however, due to the hot and dry summer, water is running out, tribal administrator’s assistant Katrina Berestoff said.
The shortages have prompted the community to shut off water for 12 hours at a time at night, delaying school breakfasts at Nanwalek School.
Berestoff said the community received four pallets of water, with three cases of water for each household, with the help of Chugachmiut Corporation, North Pacific Rim Housing Authority and Chugach Alaska Corporation.
Berestoff said the community’s water supply depends on snow every winter.
“When it melts out too fast we kind of get a good idea that we will run out in the summer, especially if we are in a drought,” Berestoff said.
Seldovia’s council passed an emergency declaration Monday stating that record high temperatures and lack of precipitation have depleted the community’s water source. The declaration asked the Kenai Peninsula Borough and state to offer support and assistance.
Seldovia has issued water conservation notices and is taking preventive measures to limit water usage. Seldovia’s city manager, Cassidi Cameron, said less than 2.5 million gallons of water were left in the reservoir, which she estimates will last the community 16 more days.
Cameron said some of the elders in the community remember a time in the 1980s when the reservoir was depleted, but didn’t know if it was to a similar extent.
Droughts and water supply shortages were not previously a part of the city or the borough’s emergency operating plans, Cameron said. That’s going to change this fall, she said.
Seldovia’s reservoir comes from the east side of the town, and water supply relies on snowpack and rain.
“That’s our watershed,” Cameron said. “That’s what we depend on. We’re hoping this isn’t the new norm and that this is just a one-time event.”
Cameron said the community is expecting two water deliveries with 10 pallets of water next week. A gray-water station is also being set up in town, where community members can use buckets to gather water for toilets and other household appliances.
“We’re doing what we can,” Cameron said. “Hope for rain.”
The Kenai Peninsula is now in either a severe or extreme drought, according to Thursday’s updated U.S. Drought Monitor map. The area experiencing an extreme drought in the northern peninsula was expanded this week and the southern peninsula was upgraded from a moderate drought to a severe drought.
The U.S. Drought Monitor — produced in partnership with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — measures droughts using five levels, level zero being no drought with abnormally dry conditions and the fourth level being an exceptional drought.
Jessica Blunden is a physical scientist at the monitoring branch at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association’s National Center for Environmental Information Center for Weather and Climate in North Carolina. She puts together information for the drought monitor map and said more than just a lack of precipitation over time causes a drought. In Alaska, wildfires, heat and other factors are used to determine how severe of a drought the Kenai Peninsula is in.
“There has also been extreme heat there (Southcentral), and there has been more evaporation, which can have an effect and is one of the reasons we’ve gone into higher categories of drought,” Blunden said. “This is the driest (the area) had been on the drought monitor map, which has been going for 20 years.”
Blunden said before this summer, Alaska never saw anything above the moderate drought category.
“What’s happening now, especially in (the Kenai Peninsula) area, is basically unprecedented,” Blunden said.
A likely chance of rain on Friday and Sunday may offer some relief.
Lucas Boyer, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Anchorage, said a couple rounds of rainfall may occur on Friday night through Saturday, with another chance of rain on Sunday. He said rainfall may be lighter in places depending on how much rain is lost in the mountains.
Eugene Petrescu, the acting meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Forecast Office in Juneau, said the peninsula has seen the driest summer on record.
The Kenai area has had no measurable rainfall since July 28. Boyer said trace amounts of rainfall were recorded in the area Aug. 6, 13 and 14, during what is typically peak rain season.
Between June 1 and Aug. 12, Kenai has received 1.51 inches of rainfall — a nearly 40% decrease in the average rainfall for the area, which is 3.88 inches of rain.
During the month of June, Kenai received 0.11 inches of rain. The average rainfall for the area in the month of June is 1.07 inches. In July, Kenai received 1.4 inches of rain, compared to an area average of 1.84 inches.
During a special borough assembly meeting, Thursday, Mayor Charlie Pierce told the assembly to expect water shortages to be addressed at Tuesday’s regular assembly meeting.