USDA helps bring water and sewer to rural Alaska

A crew works on a sewer system in a rural Alaska village. Photo courtesy USDA Rural Development.

A crew works on a sewer system in a rural Alaska village. Photo courtesy USDA Rural Development.

The Undersecretary of USDA Rural Development says the time is now to get rural Alaska communities on water and sewer systems.

Patrice Kunesh has been in Alaska this week, visiting Bethel, Quinihagak and Kwethluk  as well as Anchorage and Juneau.

Western and Interior Alaska are part of the USDA’s StrikeForce initiative where the agency helps fund housing, energy, water and sewer, and agriculture projects in poor, rural communities.

Kunesh saw some of the projects in action and said she also realized the tremendous needs in many rural Alaska villages, like Kwethluk.

“Half of the village has now been hooked up to the water and waste system and they’re doing really quite well.  The other half of the village is still using has honey pots. I think it’s about a two-year process to install and get these homes capable of supporting the wastewater sanitation system,” she said.

The money for the new systems come from USDA’s Rural Alaska Village Grant Program.  It also funds Laundromats, called washaterias.

Kunesh says as water and sewer go into villages, some operation and maintenance jobs are created.

Jim Nordlund is Alaska State Director for USDA Rural Development. He said 75 percent of the funds are federal, with a 25 percent state match.

We’ve been lucky to continue to have approximately 30 million dollars appropriated each year, especially in an era where EPA funding has dropped off significantly.

The Kasaan Water Treatment Plant, built in 2012, was a partnership of Kasaan, USDA, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and state of Alaska. Photo courtesy USDA.

The Kasaan Water Treatment Plant, built in 2012, was a partnership of Kasaan, USDA, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and state of Alaska. Photo courtesy USDA.

Over the last five years, Nordlund said, the agency has funded water and sewer projects in Hoonah, Kake, Kasaan, Thorne Bay, Ketchikan, Saxman and Metlakatla.

“The situation is always a little different, frankly better, not as dire as in Western and Interior Alaska, but still needs a lot of attention. These are small communities, they don’t have a lot of resources to pay for systems and we’re there to help,” Nordlund said.

The USDA designated Southeast Alaska a StrikeForce Zone last year.

The USDA officials were in Juneau on Thursday for the Innovation Summit, sponsored by the Juneau Economic Development Council.

While in Bethel, Kunesh announced a $718,656 grant to public radio and television, Bethel Broadcasting, Inc. to help expand television channels into villages in the region as well as continue radio and television broadcasts in Yupik.

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