As America marks the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, it’s good to reflect on the real, positive affect USDA’s water program and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) is having on rural Alaska. Our Department, working with other Federal departments and the State, continues to fund projects to improve water quality across Alaska. Here’s an example:
Earlier this month, Secretary Vilsack announced the award of $1.2 million in funds from Recovery Act to replace deteriorating sewer pipes in the community of Gulkana. Located North of Glennallen, this community of over 200 has a population that is about three-quarters Athabascan Native. The Ahtna people have lived in the area for thousands of years. According to Alaska State statistics, 40 percent of the residents of Gulkana are living below the poverty level and the unemployment rate is also near 40 percent.
The community has a high water table and permafrost is prevalent. Because of that, the 40 year old sewer system is in such bad shape that repairs are needed immediately. Using Recovery Act funds and by leveraging about $1 million in matching funds, the Tribal Council will replace pipes that have cracked and broken over the years and address a growing threat to local water quality. They will also receive funds to repair the roadways that will be affected by the sewer repair work.
Since President Obama took office, USDA has funded a number of Recovery Act projects across Alaska and also has allocated $65 million in Rural Alaska Village Grant funds to improve rural water quality and put Alaskans living in rural communities to work.
Recently, I was privileged to welcome USDA’s Jacki Ponti, Sandi Boughton, John Padalino and Jon Melhaus to Alaska for a series of meetings on water issues. They all work in the National Office in Washington and they are dedicated to improving water quality in rural communities. I commend them along with Merlaine Kruse, Tim Krug and Tasha Deardorff of the Alaska State Office staff for their hard work to improve water quality in our beautiful state. Also, we couldn’t do this important work without our partnership with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Indian Health Service and the Denali Commission.
Jacqueline M. Ponti-Lazaruk, Assistant Administrator, USDA Rural Development Water Programs (left) and Merlaine V. Kruse, Alaska Director of Cooperative and Environmental Programs, at a recent meeting in Anchorage to discuss Water and Environmental Program funding for villages in rural Alaska
Photo courtesy of Jeff Staser