Rain fails to ease drought on Kenai Peninsula

Alaska, News, Print

This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

The Kenai Peninsula still remains in a drought, despite continued rainfall. The northwest portion of the peninsula is in an extreme drought, while the remainder of the peninsula is in a severe drought, according to Thursday’s updated U.S. Drought Monitor map.

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 abnormally dry conditions with no drought, and the fourth level being an exceptional drought.

Since June 1 to date, rainfall has been at a near-record low in Southcentral Alaska, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s summary of their Thursday findings.

“There has been little or no recovery in soil moisture, even at a 2-inch depth,” the summary said.

The summary noted that several communities continue to go without fresh water sources, or their reserves are close to running out.

“The primary concern of the communities is whether they can fill their water storage before winter sets in next month,” the summary said. “Therefore, until a longer stretch of wet weather becomes established, no improvements were made.”

Dan Nelson, the emergency manager with the borough’s Office of Emergency Management, has been working closely with the communities of Nanwalek and Seldovia. Both communities are south of Homer and have been suffering water shortages for weeks, due to unprecedented drought conditions.

Nelson reiterates the summary’s findings, saying heavy precipitation is needed to boost the communities’ water reserves.

Seldovia’s water source is an open reservoir, feeding into a modern treatment plant that distributes water to the community.

The Village of Nanwalek uses an open reservoir that is treated and distributed to the community.

Nelson said Nanwalek is completely reliant on bottled water, which is being shipped in. The Chugachmiut Native corporationand the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District have been shipping bottled water to the Nanwalek. In the short term, this has been the only identified solution for the needs of the 260 residents.

Seldovia has about two weeks before their water supply runs out, but water is also being shipped in, with 5 gallons going to every household. He said the area has seen some rain, and water levels in their reservoirs have risen only slightly. The two communities’ local governments declared emergency declarations in August, and since then both communities have undergone significant water conservation efforts. The borough’s local disaster declaration was issued Aug. 29 in regards to the water shortage and remains effective for 90 days.

Nelson said the only short-term solution to the water shortages is to ship water into the communities. The borough has been looking into long-term solutions, but Nelson said that will require bringing in engineers and water experts who could assess long-term solutions for the communities, in case they face similar conditions in the future. That assistance is likely to come from the state, he said.

Mayor Charlie Pierce visited Seldovia Sept. 9, according to a post from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Facebook page.

This fall, Nelson said the cities and the borough will be implementing drought conditions into their emergency operating plans.

“We’ve never seen a drought like this before, so we’ll have to do some research,” Nelson said.

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