Water donations trickle into Tuluksak but may not be enough for village in crisis

Several pallets of botted plastic water
The first donation from CeeJay Johnson’s GoFundMe waiting to be delivered to Tuluksak. (Photo courtesy of Elsie Allain)

The Western Alaska village of Tuluksak is relying on private donations and the regional health corporation for shipments of bottled water after the village’s water purification plant burned down about two weeks ago.

But the donations may not be enough.

Listen to the story

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking eight glasses of water per day. That’s about half a gallon of water a day and about 3.5 gallons of water a week. So with that math, a village like Tuluksak with a population of about 370 should go through 1,300 gallons of drinking water a week. Or if you’re a visual person, imagine 16 big bathtubs or 260 5-gallon buckets.

RELATED: No easy answers after fire destroys Tuluksak’s water supply

But in the first week after the fire, Tuluksak only received about six bathtubs of water or 96 buckets.

The first few cases of bottled water came in from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, and from a GoFundMe fundraiser set up by an activist. That water was quickly reserved and rationed out to elders and bottle-fed babies, tribal administrator Melony Allain said.

But Allain is used to rationing water; most people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are.

“I’ve always been conserving my drinking water,” she said.

Allain said that she uses the Tuluksak River water for cleaning but not for drinking.

“I would never ever, no matter how thirsty I am, I wouldn’t want to drink the Tuluksak water,” she said.

She said that the one time she accidentally drank it, she was pregnant and immediately threw up.

“Just regurgitated it back out — sorry,” she laughed.

Part of the water delivery hold up was because in the first days after the fire, both the Kuskokwim River ice road and Tuluksak runway conditions were poor and made it difficult for the village to get their donations.

As the airplane runway and ice road conditions improved, more water donations started to trickle in. A spokesperson from Donlin Gold said that they delivered water over the weekend.

“Just from that Donlin Gold, it was able to be only 1.5 gallons per household which isn’t enough. Pretty sure it lasted a day or two,” Allain said.

Indigenous activist CeeJay Johnson and her team of volunteers were able to get more water to the village.

“Alaska Airlines flew in six pallets of water for us. In the six pallets alone, we sent 11,520 bottles of water,” Johnson said.

Tuluksak is also expecting more shipments from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services, which are sending about a week’s worth of water to the village.

Brian Lefferts, Director of Environmental Health & Engineering at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, wrote in an email that he knows of six pallets of water scheduled to be delivered but did not say where the water was coming from. Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation did not respond to follow up emails seeking clarification.

The health corportion is also working on testing a portable water purification system.  If it can purify Tuluksak’s river water, the health corporation will send the purifier upriver. The testing hasn’t been completed yet.

Not knowing when they can expect potable water again is stressful for Allain.

“I don’t know the timeline for the drinking water, that’s why I’m so concerned for people in my community. I really wish there was a faster solution,” she said.

So far, 1,950 gallons of water have been delivered to Tuluksak — about 24 bathtubs worth.

Previous articleEligibility differences between state and tribal health systems frustrate some Alaskans waiting for vaccines
Next articleReport: Alaska Attorney General quits after reports of sexual misconduct with 17-year-old