Remote Communities
Aaron Dotson, UAA

Research Approach

Remote rural communities often have increased challenges with respect to providing safe drinking water. These challenges are often linked to the community’s lack of connectivity to an urban center limiting availability of parts, skilled labor, and technical expertise. For example in rural Alaska a representative remote rural community is not connected to any other community via roadway. These communities typically maintain a small airstrip and are often located on a river. Citizens use the river as the primary means of connecting communities via boat in the summer or vehicle (car, ATV, or snow machine) in the winter. Goods are imported in small quantities by plane and large quantities by seasonal river barge.

Drinking water systems in these remote rural communities vary widely in technologies applied and the way water is collected and distributed. In the smallest and most challenged communities, a single watering point is made available to the residents and running water is likely not available in the home. At a minimum some form of filtration is performed followed by disinfection with free available chlorine. In other cases advanced technologies make up a treatment train. With populations in these remote rural communities ranging from 50 to a few thousand and a system not needing full-time attention, the job of water treatment plant operator and maintenance worker is part time and may require significant training that is unavailable or challenging/expensive to acquire.

To reduce the community level burden and improve system operation it is believed that further risk reduction and system sustainability can be achieved through development of regional or technological alliances of these very remote communities. Utilizing the assessment tools developed in Activities 1, 2 and 4 as the community level and at the alliance level, this activity will quantify the increased benefit of these alliances with respect to risk reduction. To achieve this goal, the approach in Activity 5 will involve three tasks:

Task 1: Mine existing data from the State of Alaska and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (letters of support provided) to develop a state-wide snapshot of drinking water in remote rural communities in the state (~280 communities). A database will be developed summarizing a plethora of physical, regulatory, operational and anecdotal data provided by mining the available databases as well as interviewing employees of the contributing agencies that have personal insight specific communities. Through this data mining effort the produced database (GIS and tabular data) will be made available for review and use by the contributing agencies as well as a white paper identifying preliminary regional similarities.

Task 2: Develop theoretical alliances and utilizing the database created in Task 1 capture the potential benefit of these alliances. This task will delve into historical data and challenge the manner in which situations were handled. This task will develop a series of case studies that will delineate the potential benefit of regional alliances over only local oversight. Each case study will have two levels of analysis performed, singular community and alliance. Analysis will utilize metrics developed or adapted from Activity 1 (risk index), Activity 2 (sustainability index) and Activity 4 (multi-criteria decision support methodology).

Task 3: Develop an overarching framework delineating development of regional alliances of remote rural water systems such that it could be applied to remote rural water systems inside and outside the State of Alaska. This task will engage all center partners and their associated knowledge of U.S. remote rural water systems.