As Newtok labored to make the land exchange at Mertarvik a reality, the loss of land to the Ninglick River continued. The capture of the Newtok River by the Ninglick River in 1996 had the most dramatic impact on livability of the current village. Nearly overnight, the village became more susceptible to storm surges on the Ninglick River due to the direct hydrologic connection caused by the loss of a land buffer between the village and the Ninglick River. These changes increased the frequency and severity of flooding in Newtok.
The Newtok River, which runs alongside the village, turned from a free flowing river into a slough. Commercial vessels can no longer navigate to the village and honey bucket waste no longer flows out. The Newtok River used to be busy with daily boat traffic, providing easy access to residences and barge off-loading facilities. The encroachment of the Ninglick River has caused the Newtok River to become progressively shallower with built up silt, stopping the flow of the Newtok River. At low tide, the Newtok River is similar to a mud flat, making boat and barge navigation extremely difficult and limited.
The village barge landing was lost to erosion of the Ninglick River in 2005, leaving the community with no cost-effective way to receive the delivery of construction materials or other large items.
Barge deliveries to the village are now restricted to the Newtok River, however the altered hydrology of the Newtok River has severely limited when barge deliveries can be made. In August 2006, a fuel barge was grounded in the Newtok River for three days (below). Recently, fuel had to be flown into the village when delivery could not be made by barge.
Newtok's plans to relocate, combined with the imminent threat of flooding and erosion, has rendered Newtok ineligible for capital funding for improvements to existing infrastructure (e.g. barge landing, water, sewer, bulk fuel tanks and power plant) to meet needs at the current village until the relocation is completed. Deferred maintenance and investment in Newtok's public infrastructure and facilities has adversely impacted the community's quality of life.
The Newtok River has long been used as the village’s honey bucket disposal site. With the changed hydrology of the river, disposed waste has no place to go. During storms, flood water now rushes up the Ninglick River unimpeded into the Newtok River, forcing the stagnant water of the Newtok River into the village. This has created a serious public health threat to the community.
The map below illustrates the extent of flooding that occurred in Newtok as a result of a fall storm that occurred on September 22, 2005. Residents indicated on aerial photos the extent of flooding around and within the village. According to Newtok residents, the floodwaters completely surrounded the village, turning it into an island for several days.
As a result of the September 2005 flood and another event that occurred in 2004, Newtok was included in two federal disaster declarations, DR-1571-AK (2004 Bering Sea Storm) and DR-1618-AK (2005 Fall Sea Storm).
In 2006, a study* conducted jointly by the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium found that between 1994 and 2004, 29 percent of infants in Newtok were hospitalized with lower respiratory tract infections, including pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), attributing Newtok with one of the highest rates of lower respiratory tract infections in the state. The study reported that sanitation conditions in Newtok, which include inadequate potable water for drinking and hygiene, high levels of contamination from honey bucket waste, and household overcrowding, were “grossly inadequate to public health." The study team concluded that existing conditions “appear(ed) to result from an initial lack of infrastructure development and failure to properly maintain existing infrastructure."
*Information provided by and used with the permission of the Newtok Traditional Council.
Division of Community and Regional Affairs
Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development
550 West 7th Avenue, Suite 1640
Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone: (907) 269-4588 FAX: (907) 269-4066