Drinking Water in Northwestern Alaska: Using or Not Using Centralized Water Systems in Two Rural Communities


  • Elizabeth Marino
  • Dan White
  • Peter Schweitzer
  • Molly Chambers
  • Josh Wisniewski




freshwater, centralized water systems, water technology, Alaska, Iñupiaq, localization, technoscape, globalization, adaptation


Over the last 100 years, there have been major changes in the way Iñupiaq villages in Alaska have procured fresh water for drinking and other human uses. Since the 1960s, major funding has been provided by local, state, and federal agencies to install centralized water systems in these villages. These systems have arrived with great expectations, and yet many of them have a myriad of problems due to harsh weather conditions, low winter temperatures, and permafrost. Other obstacles to success of the water systems arise from local preference for traditional water resources. On the Seward Peninsula, some villages rely heavily on centralized water systems, while others continue to rely more heavily on traditional water sources. We demonstrate in this paper that local variables, including different environmental factors and a sense of agency in the modernization process, affect local choices about whether or not to use the centralized water systems. We conclude that local, culturally specific ideas about health and acceptable drinking water quality must be taken into account for these projects to be successful.