Feds send $440M for water projects in Alaska villages

People are outside installing a water and sewer line.
ANTHC workers install a water and sewer system to an Eek home on February 21, 2019. (Photo by Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK – Bethel)

Alaska is getting a huge boost in federal money to build water and sewer systems in Alaska Native communities.

The Indian Health Service is sending $440 million. The money comes from the infrastructure bill Congress passed in 2021, and from earmarks U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski requested in the annual appropriations bills, as well as the regular federal budget.

“It’s 10 times the amount of Indian Health Service funding that we had been historically getting,” said Charissa Williar, director of the sanitation facilities program for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. 

The money will pay for 42 projects in communities around the state, she said, including in six villages that will get piped water for the first time.

Those six, Williar said, are Wales, Stebbins, Mertarvik, Tununak, Kipnuk and Tuluksak. (Circle she said, will also get a new water system but it’s hauled, not piped.)

A key aspect of the projects, she said, is that local people will be trained to build them, and they’ll have opportunities to become licensed plumbers, electricians or carpenters.

“Through that, they’re gaining skills and learning about the system so that once the project is completed, they’ll be able to take care of it, and pipe new homes as they get built,” she said.

Construction is likely to begin in two or three years, after the design is complete. 

Once these projects are done, Williar said, fewer than 30 Alaska villages will still be without piped running water and flush toilets.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

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