• Water security in the rural North: responding to change, engineering perspectives, and community focused solutions

      Penn, Henry J. F.; Schnabel, William E.; Loring, Philip A.; Gerlach, S. Craig; Dotson, Aaron A.; Barnes, David L. (2016-08)
      This project explores the capacity of rural communities to manage their water resources in a changing climate, environment and society. Using water resources as a lens through which to evaluate the effects of social and environmental changes on Alaska’s rural communities, and working from conversations with key community members including city planners and infrastructure operators, this research develops theoretical frameworks for increasing community capacity. The prospect of developing community capacity, and more specifically water resources management capacity, in order to respond to societal and climatic change is a present concern for rural communities, and is becoming increasingly so in today’s fiscally challenged environment. Many rural water managers in Alaska are challenged by aging systems designed and built over 20 years ago, and are now operating well beyond their design life. While the configuration of existing systems varies across Alaska, a common suite of problems exists; regular breakdowns, failure to achieve regulatory standards, wide variability of raw water quality, low payment rates, and historically high electricity and fuel prices. These systems are also operating during a period of historically high deficit between community needs and available grant funding at both a State and Federal level. Existing theoretical frameworks for exploring the impacts of change on regional water security (i.e. resilience and vulnerability) are informative heuristics for triage of impacts at the individual community level. Presently, however, there is little consideration given to water security solutions that do not involve the construction of a new system. This research proposes that the focus upon “new system solutions” limits available solutions for improving security at both the local and regional levels. Further this research seeks to understand the extent to which “new utility solutions” create additional capacity at both the community and regional level to respond to change. At the core of this work are informal interviews and participant observation research in 11 coastal communities in Bristol Bay and Northwest Arctic regions of Alaska.