The Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge

To improve the health of rural Alaska residents, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is spearheading a research and development effort to find better and more affordable ways to deliver drinking water and sewage disposal services to rural Alaska.

The Problem

  • Over 4,500 rural Alaska homes lack running water and a flush toilet. Many more depend on aging and deteriorating piped and haul systems.
  • Lack of in-home water and sewer service in rural Alaska causes severe skin infections and respiratory illnesses. Residents of Southwest Alaska suffer rates of invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) that are among the highest in the world.
  • To correct this public health problem, agencies have funded conventional, community-wide piped and truck haul systems. Although these systems work, they are expensive to construct and many communities cannot afford their high operational costs.
  • Funding to build systems has declined severely while costs have risen sharply. The deficit between available funds and needs is over $660.3 million.
  • A different approach to delivering these services is needed.

Sewage Lagoon

Existing Conditions

Some communities in rural Alaska use a household toilet facility known as a "honey bucket". A plastic bag lined bucket collects urine and feces. Then, plastic bags of feces from honey buckets are disposed in a sewage lagoon.

  • For more images of existing conditions, visit the Photo Gallery.

The Solution

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has initiated a new project to spur worldwide research to develop innovative and cost effective water and sewer systems for homes in remote Alaska villages. The project focuses on decentralized water and wastewater treatment, recycling, and water minimization. These approaches have a high potential for use in individual homes and housing clusters. Our goal is to significantly reduce the capital and operating costs of in-home running water and sewer in rural Alaska homes.