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In Drought-Plagued Parts of Alaska, 'Extreme Measures'

And if climate change continues, these types of scenarios could happen more often
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 7, 2019 10:30 AM CDT
In Drought-Plagued Parts of Alaska, 'Extreme Measures'
In this Sept. 4, 2019, photo provided by the City of Seldovia, Alaska, shows the condition of the community's dam as it struggles with a severe water shortage.   (Cassidi Cameron/City of Seldovia via AP)

(Newser) – In one Alaska village, officials are barging in jugs of water and shutting off the public water supply 12 hours each day. In another, automatic flush toilets have been switched to manual flushing, and restaurants are serving meals on paper plates. Alaska's hot, dry summer has led to extreme measures for severe drought conditions in the Native communities of Nanwalek and Seldovia in the Kenai Peninsula, prompting regional officials to issue a disaster declaration. Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, is still fielding smoke drifting from a major wildfire in the Kenai Peninsula this late in the season. The city is considered to be in extreme drought, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, while the Kenai Peninsula communities are placed in the lesser severe drought category, per the AP.

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But Anchorage has plenty of water in its system, unlike a handful of small communities that rely on snowmelt and rain like Nanwalek and Seldovia to fill their reserves. In an average year, the Nanwalek area receives nearly 9 inches of rain from June to August. This summer, it received slightly less than 3 inches. Seldovia also received a fraction of its normal rainfall: In that time span, the community received slightly more than 1 1/2 inches, compared with the average of about 5 1/2 inches. Overall, the area is expected to begin a wetter pattern, but it won't be as wet as expected this time of year, meteorologist Louise Fode says, "so it's not going to instantly relieve the problems that we're seeing in Seldovia and Nanwalek." Such scenarios could become more common with climate warming, adds a University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher. That doesn't mean it will happen every year, he notes, "but the probability of this type of summer increases with time as the Earth warms." (Read more Alaska stories.)

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