With the last of the snow melting off, and Alaska headed toward summer, long range forecasts indicate it could be a hot one.Download AudioNational Weather Service Alaska climate science and services manager Rick Thoman uses computer models to generate long term forecasts.“All point strongly towards significantly warmer-than-normal temperatures,” he said.Thoman describes extremely warm surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific and Gulf of Alaska as continuing to drive a balmy trend in Alaska. Thoman says the other half of the weather picture, precipitation is much harder to predict.“Some weak indications of potentially wetter-than-normal across, at least, the eastern Interior and perhaps Southcentral and into Southwest Alaska as well,” he said. “But, those signals are much weaker than the very strong indications for significantly warmer-than-normal temperatures for both May and the early summer.”The mix of warmth, lightning and rain determines wildfire potential, and Thomans says that’s even harder to forecast.“Whenever we see a significant indication for warm, definitely our ears perk up, but as we’ve seen recently, for instance in the 2013 season, it can be very warm, but doesn’t necessarily translate to a big fire season,” he said.Wild fire season also fizzled last summer as the interior experienced wetter than normal conditions, including in Fairbanks, where a June, July August rain fall record was set.
Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn. Rep. Young Advocating For Transfer Of Air Force Land To Galena Dan Bross, KUAC – FairbanksThe Yukon River community of Galena could be relocated out of flood danger if a land transfer being pushed by Alaska Congressman Don Young goes through. The village, which is still recovering from a major flood two years ago, will likely approach moving with multiple steps over time. The Blind Spot: Harm Reduction at the Transit Center Zachariah Hughes & Anne Hillman, KSKA – AnchorageIf you’re a teenager in Anchorage struggling with homelessness, hunger, or addiction there are few places to turn. All week we’ve been hearing about a wide gap between early exposure to drugs and alcohol, and the crises that bring people into treatment, part of our series called “The Blind Spot” KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes visited one of the few organizations in Anchorage helping at-risk teens on their own terms, hidden in plain sight in one of the city’s busiest buildings.Unalaska’s Geothermal Hopes Stall Without City Backing Annie Ropeik, KUCB – UnalaskaA years-long effort to bring geothermal power to Unalaska may be on its last legs. The city government is draining its accounts for exploring Makushin Volcano, saying the project is too expensive and risky to pursue any further. The private trust that owns the resource disagrees, but they’re stymied without local support.Two Face Felony Charges for Alleged $25,000 Theft from Nome SchoolsMatthew Smith, KNOM – NomeTwo Nome residents are facing felony charges for theft and falsifying business records after allegedly stealing more than $25,000 from Nome Public Schools.Bethel Team Envisions Greywater Recycling Ben Matheson, KYUK – BethelA Bethel team is reenvisioning how household water is treated. They hope to build and test a custom grey water recycling system for hauled water systems in western Alaska that could cut steeply the amount of water households need to buy and how much sewage they produce.PSP: Tribal Partnership Seeks Modern Solution To An Ancient Problem Emily Kwong, KCAW – SitkaOf all the traditional seafoods in Southeast Alaska, none are more shrouded in myth — and genuine risk — than clams and mussels. Paralytic shellfish poisoning — or PSP — killed two people in Southeast in 2010 and dozens more have fallen ill over the recorded history of the state.For subsistence harvesters, there has been no way to measure the risk of clam digging — until now. Sen. Sullivan Adds Amendment To Human Trafficking Bill Liz Ruskin, APRN – AnchorageSen. Dan Sullivan added an amendment to the human trafficking bill the U.S. Senate passed Wednesday. Sullivan says it addresses a problem he faced as Alaska’s Attorney General. With Legislature In Limbo, Walker Calls For Action On BillsAlexandra Gutierrez, APRN – JuneauThe Legislature blew past its adjournment deadline on Sunday, all but one committee meeting scheduled since then has been canceled or delayed indefinitely. Now, Gov. Bill Walker is calling on lawmakers to do work on bills for as long as it continues to be in session. Download Audio
This chart shows the sharp decline in funding for rural water and sewer projects in Alaska. Visit http://dhss.alaska.gov/ahcc/Documents/meetings/201408/GriffithBlackRuralSanitationPresentation.pdf to see the rest of the presentation.Bill Griffith, Mike Black ADEC, ANTHCMost of us have never lived with without running water at home. Today, we’ll learn about some people who are just getting used to it, and others who would like to get used to having running water. In the second segment of the series Kick the Bucket, we’ll also hear some of the reasons Alaska hasn’t made modern plumbing a simple fact of life for all Alaskans.Download AudioDan Winkleman, the president of the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC), described a recent phone call from his mother-in-law in Kwethluk.“She said, ‘Guess what?’ ‘So I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘I just finished doing the dishes in my sink with the water from the faucet and I wanted to let you know how exciting that was.’ She was giddy with excitement,” said Winkelman.What’s so exciting about washing dishes? Kwethluk never had running water before. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t cheap: a water treatment plant, water tank and sewage lagoon cost $41 million.That’s a lot of money — but this is rural Alaska. Weather can wreak havoc with schedules. Getting anything here is expensive, especially heavy equipment. And, piped water and sewer means digging trenches for pipes and pumps, plus installing plumbing in individual homes. But Kwethluk’s system is costly even for rural Alaska, where piped water and sewer in some communities cost in the three-to-five million dollar range.YKHC Remote Maintenance Worker Bob White said the Kwethluk treatment plant, which cost $4.2 million, has sophisticated features to reduce maintenance and operations, such as computerized controls and sensors that will send out alerts if something isn’t working as it should. And to avoid the expense of large underground sewage pipes, each home is getting a grinder pump that will move sewage through narrow, 2-inch-pipes.Hefting the pump on to a piece of plywood, White said, “They’re expensive, and they’re heavy. This one’s brand new.”And it’s heavy duty.“Part of the problem, it wouldn’t take the harsh conditions,” said White. “The pump manufacturer actually started making an Arctic version, and this is their Arctic version.”Driving the half mile from the treatment plant to the sewage lagoon, White said workers dredged a pond 20 feet deep to get the soil used to build the berm around the lagoon. Raw sewage is pumped in, then natural processes take over and break it down. The Kwethluk sewer lagoon cost $7.5 million dollars – but, as White explains, that cost is all up-front.“The good thing about a lagoon is once you construct it, your costs are pretty much done. The maintenance on this lagoon will be less than $5,000 a year,” said White. “So lagoons are really efficient if you have the land mass.”Federal and state funding for the Kwethluk project came in increments so construction spanned some 15 years – which also added to the cost.Fifty miles up the Kuskokwim River, Tuntutuliak, population 400, doesn’t have running water and gets by on what’s called a flush-haul system. Waste from flush toilets goes into a holding tank, then gets hauled away. People have to haul water. Brian Lefferts, director of YKHC’s office of environmental health and engineering, said there’s a public health cost to that.“In situations like that,” says Lefferts, “we find that people drastically conserve the water and then they don’t realize the health benefits that come with having piped running water and sewer service.”Lefferts said the decision on which communities get funding for water and sewer projects comes out of a detailed evaluation.“All the water and sewer, what we call needs in the state, get entered into a database. It’s called a sanitation deficiency system,” said Lefferts. “We have estimated project costs, the number of homes they’d serve, looking at health impact, capital cost, d the current level of service, and then the level of service they’d have after the project.”Other criteria include how well the community is doing managing what it has – collecting fees, for instance, and getting employees trained and certified.A 1994 report by the federal Office of Technology Assessment recommended an annual budget of $120 million for rural sanitation in Alaska. Federal and state funding combined never reached that level, and now officials say it will take $900 million to catch up. That’s on top of $2.2 billion dollars spent over the past two decades.In a recent presentation to state legislators, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Sanitation Facilities Program Manager David Bevridge said most of that money has come from federal agencies.“If you look through the Village Safe Water program, it gets matched with federal dollars on a 25-75 percent ratio,” Bevridge explained. “So for every 25 dollars the federal government will kick in 75 dollars so that’s been a big component of the funding in Alaska.”In 2014, the state legislature allocated $7.5 million for Village Safe Water, out of a $13 billion state budget, to match $50 million from the Indian Health Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Department of Agriculture. But federal funding has dropped by 64 percent in the last ten years. The gap between what’s needed and what’s available is getting wider. And the lack of money for maintenance and operations right now is damaging existing systems. We’ll find out more about that next time.
Janna Stewart is the Tsunami Marine Debris Coordinator for Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, one of the organizers of the event. She says it’s hard to determine how much of the debris is from that tsunami. However, they’ve seen things like fishing gear and dock fragments:“…Foam that’s used in a lock of construction, tanks, household items,” Stewart says. “As time has gone on, some of the heavier debris been coming in that’s been moving in the currents rather than bouncing up, driven by the wind,” says Stewart. “So, they’ve seen a change in the nature of the debris that’s come in. For example, they weren’t seeing dimensional lumber from Japan until a couple of years after the tsunami and now they’ve starting to see that.”Stewart says nonprofits and other groups have been collecting marine debris for years and many of those collection sites are remote, like Gore Point and Montague Island.“At a lot of those sites, the debris can’t be removed even by smaller vessels because the shorelines are rocky, they’re high-energy beaches with a lot of surges. So, the debris once it’s been collected and stored on the shoreline, for many of these locations, the only practical way and the safest way to get the debris of the shorelines is to get it airlifted onto the barge.”The Japanese government is largely funding the project with $900,000 from the $2.5 million it granted Alaska. Stewart says Japan donated a total of $5 million dollars to coastal states and says she’s met with other funding recipients at conferences. Not only did Alaska get hit harder than other states, she says, but it also faces unique challenges.“The story I always tell is, when they were doing the presentation on the pickup of this dock that came in, I think it was in Oregon, they talked about they had to drive a quarter of a mile on a logging road to get to the beach. And I said ‘You have a road?’”It’s an issue that the Kodiak Archipelago can relate to.Tom Pogson is Director of Education, Outreach, and Marine Programs of Island Trails Network, a nonprofit that has been working to remove marine debris from Kodiak shorelines since 2013.Pogson says ITN has accumulated 180,000 pounds of marine debris in its storage yard and volunteers spent the weekend preparing it for transport. He says ITN started to make plans with other organizations for the debris removal in February and those plans fell into place over the last couple of weeks.“We’ve been talking about this for a couple of years, but the specifics of getting the contracts finalized and getting a plan and finding appropriate vessels and getting all the mechanics of this particular large-scale removal from this large stretch of coastline set-up has been very complicated,” says Pogson.And he says that’s the nature of the beast.“It’s a bit like riding your bike in the dark on a road without any lights. You basically know you’re on the road, you can sorta get a feel for where you’re going, and you know there’s lots of other people that are going there with you. And you kinda just close your eyes and go.”A kick-off event will take place Thursday in Kodiak to celebrate the barge launch and the month-long debris removal along the coast. The public is invited to hear speakers including DEC Commissioner, NOAA Marine Debris Program Regional Coordinator, and the Director of Alaska Keeper, a major nonprofit involved in organizing the event. The kick-off will be at 2pm at Koniag on Near Island. A massive barge is docked in Kodiak this week. The barge is more or less a huge floating trash can. It’s en route to the Lower 48 with hundreds of tons of marine debris on board – debris that will be recycled once the barge arrives in Seattle.Download AudioBarge in Kodiak, without bags. Photo by Candice BresslerA lot of the marine debris littering Alaska’s shorelines is from the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
Warmer winters have pushed Sitka snowboarders and other adventurers out of the mountains and into the water. The ocean swell and rock breaks right near the heart of town create prime wave conditions. But locals are worried about revealing too much about their secret spot. Download AudioA surfer catches a wave at Sandy Beach in Sitka. (Photo by Brielle Schaeffer,KCAW – Sitka)Art Freitas just moved to Sitka from Hawaii. He likes to take his mutt Finn for walks along Sandy Beach. And, on a recent afternoon, he was a little stunned to see people surfing there.“I can’t wait to take a video and show it to my friends and family,” said Freitas. “This is crazy.”Freitas didn’t bring a board with him but he’s thinking of getting one. And a thicker wetsuit.“It’s gotta be cold out there but it’s got to be warm enough to be bearable,” Freitas said. “You even got a body boarder out there. It’s awesome.”It may seem funny, but surfing in Sitka is no joke.When the conditions are right, usually in the hour window before and after high tide rolls in, dozens of surfers and bodyboarders don their 5-millimeter wet suits and get out on the only wave in town. Sandy Beach is on a main road about three miles from the heart of Sitka.And people aren’t the only ones who enjoy the waves.“Seals surfin’, otters surfin’, humans surfin’,” said Kitty Sopow, a self-described surf bunny.Sopow likes to hang on the beach with her dog when the surf is up.Sandy Beach, known as Sandies to the surf crew, is a bit of a misnomer, though. Rocks on the coast create the surf break. The shore is full of baseball-sized rocks and a few downed trees, which the surfers use to stash cans of Rainier beer.Sopow isn’t too sure why surfing in Sitka is popular, “but I think it’s because everyone here is super freaking cool.”A trio of boarders ride a mellow wave. (Photo by Brielle Schaeffer, KCAW – Sitka)Well, Jed Delong certainly is.The commercial pilot grew up snowboarding in Sitka on local peaks. He always wanted to surf but didn’t start learning at Sandies until about five years ago. But it has been a good thing to pick up, especially in Southeast, where the warming winters have made for poor snow conditions.“It’s something to do,”said Delong. “We usually get better swell in the winter. This winter has been great for waves there’s been a lot of good swell.”But Delong has a word of warning for those who are interested in Sitka surfing.“You probably don’t want to do it,” Delong said.The sport has grown here in recent years and those who enjoy the waves are concerned the beach may get crowded. Several surfers declined to speak to me because they were afraid of selling out the spot, even though it’s visible from the road. Cody Johns is a commercial fisherman based in Sitka who frequents Sandy Beach.“Oh yeah this is a really bad spot I definitely wouldn’t recommend surfing here,” Johns said. “It’s really rocky people get their boards dinged up pretty bad and there are sharks.”He’s joking of course, but that attitude is part of the surf culture. The one wave can only accommodate so many and they want to protect it. Unlike other beaches in Hawaii or California, there aren’t hundreds of people at the same break.“Surfing in Sitka is probably one of the best kept secrets on the west coast,” said Charlie Skultka, who said he helped pioneer cold water surfing in Alaska.It’s still a secret because the community has guarded it over the years.That being said, he thinks the city could really capitalize on the adventure tourism market. He thinks the city should consider putting in a man-made break that is accessible by the road.“It could be the first city in the nation with an artificial reef and it doesn’t cost any money because waves are free and it draws people in,” Skultka said.The best waves in Sitka are only accessible by boat, Skultka said. Kruzof Island, about 10 miles west, is home to volcanic Mt. Edgecumbe.The surf community waits for a wave as a boat cruises away from the harbor. (Photo by Brielle Schaeffer,KCAW – Sitka)“Of course the lava that’s all reef, lava reef, and it makes for a nice hollow wave, very typical to what you’d find at the breaks in Hawaii, just a little cooler climate,” said Skultka.A lifelong Sitkan, Skultka began surfing after one of his friends found a board floating offshore. Skultka was doing some fiberglass boat work at the time so his friend asked him to repair it. After a while he figured he’d try it out.“So one day I drug that board down to Sandy Beach and caught my first wave and rode it down to the beach,” Skultka recalled.Then, he spent another six weeks falling off the board until …“I finally caught another wave and I was literally hooked. Yeah,” said Skultka.He says when he started surfing in the 80s he was one of only a handful of surfers in the state. Now there are dozens who catch waves daily in Sitka during the winter.But on Easter Day, Skultka got the break all to himself and for an hour or so, it was just him and the ocean and some shoulder-high waves.
A sculpture by Christoph Kapeller, part of his “Yedoma: Mounds of Life” exhibit within “The View From Up Here.” Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media. “There’s always been a fascination with the Arctic, and with the North, and so artists have come to these places for centuries,” Decker said.“But there’s an urgency to the story now, and there’s an increased curiosity because of the rapid pace of change,” she added.The View From Up Here opens Friday, and runs through October 6th.The “Frontier of Change” soundwalk will be available online at KNBA through the end of the summer. Sculpture’s by John Grade as part of his “Floats” exhibit within “The View From Up Here.” Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public.“I think there’s a lot of dichotomy here that I’ve experienced, sort of the urban and the rural and remote, and I’m trying to find ways to reconcile those two,” Cote said.The show’s theme is loose, and most of the works look nothing alike. There are sculptures of glass and wood suspended from the ceiling like ornamental cocoons, a multimedia display of prehistoric permafrost patterns, even a vinyl record made from wood burned during a bonfire in Kotzebue that you can listen to through headphones.Museum director Julie Decker says the idea was to give support to several artists with long-standing ties to northern regions as they explore this particular point in time for Alaska’s Arctic. Download AudioWhen people imagine Alaska’s Arctic, experimental art isn’t typically first thing that comes to mind.But a new exhibit at the Anchorage Museum is getting visitors, urbanites, and art-lovers to connect to the Arctic in different ways. And the works expand well beyond the gallery walls.Standing outside the Anchorage museum during busy mid-day traffic, two radio producers from Brooklyn plug ear-buds into an iPhone as they get ready to test a soundwalk.“A soundwalk is like a museum audio tour, but it’s outside,” explained Isaac Kestenbaum, who has spent the last few months in Alaska as part of a project called “Frontier of Change,” a partnership with public radio station KNBA in Anchorage.Kestenbaum, along with his collaborator and wife Josie Holtzman, are about to try their mile-long soundwalk for the first time together, taking notes about how they can improve it for visitors in the days ahead.“There’s just a lot of imagining that you have to do,” Holtzman explained of the challenges for synchronizing audio and the surrounding environment.The two set out on the same route groups of guided guests will travel starting Friday. They slipped pairs of headphones into their ears, the dangling cords connecting to a smartphone loaded with a 31 minute podcast.“I’d like to welcome you aboard Frontier of Change Airlines,” begins a flight attendent (voiced by Holtzman) in the audio file. “Non-stop service to Shaktoolik, by way of Downtown Anchorage.”The experimental piece isn’t actually about Anchorage, but instead Shaktoolik, a community of around 300 people hundreds of miles off the road system.“You’ll be traveling in two places at once,” chimes the recording.It’s a little discombobulating: my eyes are looking at traffic lights and JC Penny’s, but in my ears are the wind and waves you hear walking down the man-made berm separating Shaktoolik’s 61 homes from the Bering Sea.“Shaktoolik is one mile long, and a little bit wider than this city block,” the flight attendant voice pipes in.Across the street from the museum, we begin meeting people from around town.”“Welcome to Shaktoolik,” says Mayor Eugene Asicksick. “Stormy Shaktoolik, I should say.”A lot of what Asicksick and others talk about is the shifting climate: What warming winters, worsening storms, and a growing day-to-day fear over the weather feel like in the small town.“It’s changing,” Asicksick says in the recording. “But to me that’s home.”Rounding the corner, a 15-story luxury hotel comes into view just as Shaktoolik teacher Lynda Bekoalok describes how her 11-year-old students talk about evacuating in a flood.“They said, ‘I’d take water, and I would take food, and I’d take bandaids and I’d grab my VHF.’ Where before they’d grab toys, their phones, their video-games,” says Bekoalok in a concerned by considered tone. “Their whole way of thinking is different.”As the soundwalk continued, the urban surroundings that can feel insulated from climate change began feeling closer to it. At times, was hard to tell if the airplanes I was hearing were from the earbuds or the actual Cessna’s overhead on their way to Merrill Field. Same with the buzzing hum of trucks, wind, and seagulls.As Holtzeman scribbled notes after the tour, I asked if the Shaktoolik soundwalk downtown is supposed to be a complement, a contradiction, or both. Mary Mattingly’s “Arctic Food Forest,” a living sculpture that functions similar to a small-scale ecosystem, exhibited in front of the Anchorage Museum as part of “The View From Up Here.” May 2016, Zachariah Hughes.This is just one of the experimental pieces in “The View From Up Here” exhibit. Most of the installations are inside the museum–although the lawn is playing host to an “arctic food forest.”Derek Cote grew up in rural Canada and now teaches in Detroit. His video piece “Legends Are Made Here” (with an accompanying score by Paul Haas, played the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra) started years ago when the museum invited him to experiment with a new format during his time as an artist-in-residence.At one point in Cote’s film the burning pink globe of a shallow sunrise outside Shishmaref is shown alongside the lush red curtain rising at Anchorage’s Performing Arts Center. The movements and music harmonize on the screen, which is no accident. “Subsistence,” a sculpture by Marek Ranis from old military maps suspended on metal fish racks, part of the Anchorage Museum’s “The View From Up Here” exhibit. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.
Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprnListen Now Alaska’s largest Native organization endorses Clinton for president, first endorsement in historyZachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – AnchorageFor the first time, the Alaska Federation of Natives has endorsed a candidate for president — Hillary Clinton.Nikiski residents in limbo after LNG land grabRashah McChesney, Alaska’s Energy Desk – JuneauOver the last two years, the Alaska LNG project bought about 630 acres of land in Nikiski, on the Kenai Peninsula. That’s where the state and its partners hoped to build a giant natural gas liquefaction plant — and over several homes were razed.After five days, Moose Fire nearly half contained Ellen Lockyer, Alaska Public Media – AnchorageThe Moose Creek fire near Sutton is nearly half contained at 46%, according to fire information officials Wednesday. Fire managers expect to have the blaze fully contained by the weekend.In Anchorage, a Trump supporter keeps the faithZachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – AnchorageTonight we hear from Julie Tisdale of Anchorage. Tisdale is 47, an accountant and a lifelong Alaskan — and she’s an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump.Marijuana fees generate funds for student travel in SitkaEmily Kwong, KCAW – SitkaStudent activities in Sitka are getting a boost from the marijuana industry. During their meeting last week, the Assembly approved depositing all money generated from state marijuana licensing fees into a specific fund for student travel sponsored by the school district.Kodiak Police Department chooses new camera model for body-worn camera programKayla Desroches, KMXT – KodiakDays after a superior court judge ordered the release of a body cam video, the Kodiak Police Department suspended its Body-Worn Camera Program, which began in February 2015. However, it wasn’t until this summer that KPD announced the suspension.Master Of Alaska details life of Aleksandr BaranovLori Townsend, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage
Time lapse cameras caught this mountain goat gazing at the LeConte Glacier terminus. (Photo courtesy of Christian Kienholz, University of Alaska Southeast)There’s more evidence of a bacteria potentially dangerous to some Alaska wildlife.Listen nowState Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Bruce Dale says samples from Dall’s sheep and mountain goats have tested positive for the bacteria referred to as “Movi.””Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae is a bacteria that is found in caprinae which are things like sheep and goats and muskox,” Dale said.Dale says Movi can paralyze the cilia, or hair like structures, in the animal’s airways, making them vulnerable to respiratory diseases like pneumonia, which can be devastating.”Extreme morbidity and mortality, and those have been scene in Lower 48 big horn sheep populations,” Dale said.Dale emphasizes that Movi strains vary in strength, and that the animals that tested positive in Alaska were healthy. The bacteria has long been common in Lower 48 wild and domestic goats and sheep. It’s in about 4 percent of Alaska’s domestic populations, and two samples from wild Brooks Range sheep tested positive for Movi in 2009. Dale says the latest positives confirmed by the state this month, include 13 from Dall’s sheep, and five from mountain goats.”I think because it’s widespread now — we’ve seen it from the Kenai to the Brooks Range — that does suggest that it’s likely it’s been around a while,” Dale said. “Maybe a very long time.”Dale says the new detections follows the recent year’s development of better tests and more widespread surveillance.”The tests have evolved quite a lot in that time,” Dale said. “And a veterinarian told me just this morning that the rule for disease is the more you look for it, the more you find it.”Dale says the state continues to ramp up field surveillance and monitoring, and is working with a laboratory to identify the Movi strains in Alaska. He attributes movement of the bacteria into Alaska to climate change and globalization.
The green rectangles show average Ketchikan precipitation for that month over the years. The black dots show what happened over the past nine months. (Graphic courtesy National Weather Service)There are no tumbleweeds blowing through the streets of Southeast Alaska towns, but the region has received less precipitation than usual over the past nine months.Listen nowThe National Weather Service presented a webinar this week about Southeast Alaska’s drought.Southeast Alaska is the kind of place where you can get a lot of rain but still be in the middle of a drought.It’s home to the Tongass National Forest, the largest of about a half-dozen temperate rainforests in the world.Communities scattered through the lush evergreen forest measure rainfall in feet. Ketchikan is one of the wettest, with about 12 feet of annual average precipitation.“Drought is one of those things that, it seems like, oh, everybody knows what a drought is,” National Weather Service climate scientist Rick Thoman said. “But the more you think about it, the harder it gets to pin down.”A drought is a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time.The deficiency level and the time period can vary, Thoman said.Whether or not it becomes a “drought” also depends on how much demand there is on water resources – by people and the environment.Considering all those variables, Southeast Alaska is in the middle of a drought.It started last fall, following a wetter-than-normal summer.Ketchikan, for example, received record rainfall levels in August.“Starting in September, we see that precipitation in Ketchikan totaled a little over 11 inches,” Thoman said. “That doesn’t sound like a drought to me, being a Fairbanksan. Sounds like an awful lot of precipitation. But by Ketchikan standards, that was actually below normal.”Normal in September is closer to 15-16 inches.“October, again, over 11 inches of rain, but that’s well below normal in Ketchikan in October, followed by well-below normal precipitation in November, as well,” Thoman said.October usually sees 15-25 inches of rain; a typical November is slightly under that, but similar. November last year, though, was about 8 inches.December and January went back to average levels, Thoman said, but then February and March were dry — again by rainforest standards.All that means overall precipitation in Southeast Alaska since fall has been below normal. By a lot.“September to February: The driest of record in this analysis since, this would be since 1925-26 — southern Southeast has not had a drier September to February.”October to March also was the driest for its time frame.Rainfall in April and May improved the situation somewhat, but a deficiency remains.National Weather Service Juneau senior hydrologist Aaron Jacobs said that deficiency has had an effect on the region.Hydroelectric power generation, for example, was hit hard.“The main reason for this type of an impact is the lack of precipitation in the wet season,” he said. “If Southeast Alaska doesn’t get that rain in that October, November and into December time frame, there could be deficits in water levels that may not be able to recover.”When hydroelectric dams don’t have enough water, communities need to use more-expensive diesel power.Jacobs said a drought also affects community drinking water supplies, seafood processers and the natural habitat of the entire forest.Salmon have a difficult time spawning when streams don’t have enough water, Jacobs said, and yellow cedar mortality increases when rainfall is lower than normal.What will happen next? Thoman said there isn’t a clear signal at this time.“We do have increasing signs of an El Nino developing for this fall and winter, and that often has a significant precipitation signal in Southeast Alaska,” Thoman said. “At this point I would say as we move towards the wet season for Southeast, stay tuned.”
Then-candidate Mike Dunleavy speaks at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)Governor Mike Dunleavy says Alaska’s budget deficit requires dramatic cuts to state services and he wants it done in one year. The Governor says he wants a permanent fiscal plan for Alaska and he has proposed amendments to the constitution to keep future governors and lawmakers from changing the tax structure or the PFD formula without a vote of the people. Governor Dunleavy makes the case for his goals for the future on the next Talk of Alaska. HOST: Lori TownsendGUESTS:Governor Mike DunleavyPARTICIPATE:Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcastSend an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (comments may be read on air)Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.LIVE Web stream: Click here to stream.SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by email, RSS or podcast.
“Housing stability and homeownership makes for more secure families, less crime, better success in schools and the building of family wealth,” he said. “These benefit our economy and our communities.” The NeighborhoodLIFT program — a partnership between Wells Fargo and NeighborWorks America — will launch in Alaska with a $3.3 million commitment from Wells Fargo, according to the bank. Local executives gathered at Russian Jack Springs Park Wednesday to make the announcement. “We have a goal here in Alaska — we want all working families to have their own home,” said Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, joining Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Wells Fargo Alaska region bank President Greg Deal and nonprofit leaders at the morning press conference. Jim Nordlund, executive director of NeighborWorks Alaska, said the opportunity to expand homeownership has a ripple effect. That’s where NeighborhoodLIFT can help, officials said Wednesday. The program, launched in 2012, has operated in dozens of communities around the country, offering down payment assistance grants and homebuyer education classes. This is the first year it’s available in Alaska, where NeighborhoodLIFT will open to families earning up to the median area income. For a family of four in Anchorage, the limit is $104,900; in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the limit is $92,400. A collaboration between a nonprofit and one of the world’s largest banks now promises thousands of dollars in home-buying help for eligible Alaskans around the state. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that as of 2018, Alaska’s homeownership rate hovered around 63.7 percent, the second-lowest it’s been in more than 20 years. A quarterly cost-of-living index published by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development shows housing costs in Anchorage are approximately 38 percent higher than the national average. Housing in Fairbanks costs approximately 18 percent above average, while housing in Juneau costs more than 45 percent above the national average. Qualified buyers can receive down payment assistance of $10,000; $12,500 for veterans and service members, teachers and emergency responders. The money is offered as a five-year forgivable loan: As long as the borrower resides in the home, the loan will be forgiven at 20 percent each year. Homebuyers must acquire a mortgage through an approved lender, and participate in homebuyer education classes. The application is available online beginning Aug. 12. The new grant program would make a difference for hundreds of Alaskans, Nordlund said Wednesday. “But really, folks, more needs to be done,” he said. “There is an affordable housing crisis in this country, and in Alaska.”