Running water is coming to all of Lower Kalskag

A third of Lower Kalskag has gone without running water even though the rest of the village has been piped for over a decade. (Photo by Joey Mendolia / Alaska Public Media)

Running water is coming to Lower Kalskag, a village where only part of the town has had the service up until now. The discrepancy has provided a way to analyze how a home changes with the addition of running water. 

Artie Kameroff’s house has transformed from a one-room home, to a two-room home. Kameroff now has a bathroom. 

“Woohoohoo! I got a toilet!” Kameroff exclaims, giddy as he flushes his toilet. Kameroff’s four-year old daughter giggles and squirms in her father’s arms.

Artie Kameroff shows off his new sink, complete with running water. (Photo by Greg Kim / KYUK)

For years, Kameroff hauled drinking water into his home and human waste out of it. Many houses in Lower Kalskag have been hooked up to water and sewer for over a decade, but others, including Kameroff’s, have not. Mayor Walter Morgan says that there is a simple explanation.

“They weren’t hooked up because we didn’t have the money or the resources to do it,” Morgan said.

The community started working on the grant for this project 12 years ago. It took six years to get the funding, and another six to design and build the new system. Once they’re done, all the homes in Lower Kalskag will have piped water and sewer. Those living in the part of town without running water could fetch it from the water plant. But more often, there was a family member with running water closer. 

“We have a little trail from my house to my mom’s that we made, and we’d have to go back and forth to get water, to do laundry,” said Rosanne Savage.

Her home doesn’t have running water yet. So every other day, she sends one of her kids down that little trail to her mother’s house with two buckets. 

Rosanne Savage’s kids take this path to their grandmother’s house whenever they want to take a shower. (Photo by Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

“Them kids pack water if they’re not lazy,” said Rosanne’s mom, Rita Savage.

She says that she can’t wait for her daughter and family to get running water for themselves. 

“I used to get worried a lot. They’re drinking dirty water. I think of their health,” she said.

“It’s hard to drink out of a bucket that’s in the floor,” Morgan said. “You don’t know what falls in it, and honey buckets, they spill in the house when you’re bringing them out. It’s just not clean.” 

Morgan noticed that kids in families with running water get sick less often.

“I’m not a doctor, but I see that,” Morgan said.

Studies have proven that running water improves peoples’ health. But what else changes when you have running water? Artie Kameroff says that he used to spend an hour every day hauling water and honey buckets back and forth. In the winter, when buckets froze to lids, it would take longer. Asked what he plans to do with that extra time, Kameroff replied, “Watch movies, take a shower, go get wood, listen to my woman. I don’t know.”  

For many like Morgan, who doesn’t haul water any more, the free time they have now versus when they were kids is substantial, especially in the winter. 

“When you wanted to get water, man, you had to ice pick for two to three hours cause the ice was over 6 feet thick,” Morgan said. “Right now, I think kids are spoiled.”

He worries sometimes that they won’t learn hard work like he did, but he’s going to teach them by taking them hunting and fishing.

Mayor Walter Morgan stands outside his home with his girlfriend, Dolly Heckman. (Photo by Greg Kim/KYUK)

“You can’t put something in the microwave, you gotta catch it, kill it, clean it, cook it. It’s tough,” Morgan said. “Then they simply appreciate running water and toilets when they come home like everyone else.” 

The mayor is eager for the entire town to have running water. He knows their community’s health will improve, and he believes people will spend the extra time on whatever makes them happiest. For Morgan, that’s spending the last few days of moose-hunting season on the tundra.