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State-sponsored design challenge aims to end honey buckets in rural Alaska

By Heather Hintze 9:42 PM December 8, 2015

The State of Alaska is working to end the honey bucket system currently used in about 30 rural communities.

On Tuesday, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation launched Phase 3 of its Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge.

Three teams have $900,000 each to develop and test prototype systems over the next two years.

Team Dowl’s system is all about grey water recycling.

“There is a separate point of use filter and there’s a grey water system that recycles all the water to the other fixtures in the house,” said Project Engineer Chase Nelson.

Team Summit’s design would fit entirely into the home with three main loops that also rely on recycling.

“If 15 gallons is brought in, over the course of a day with four people, 60 gallons can be used and then about eight gallons have to be discharged,” Thea Agnew Bemben explained.

The University of Alaska Anchorage team came up with a shipping container unit outside the home that residents would be able to install themselves.

“We reuse water in the home for hygiene purposes and we re-use water in the home in the much smaller loop for toilet flushing so we can maximize the use of water,” said Aaron Dotson, associate professor at UAA.

There are an estimated 3,300 homes in about 30 communities around Alaska that still don’t have a sewer system or running water. Having an open waste collection site like a honey bucket can cause respiratory illnesses, especially in children.

“From a public health standpoint and from a life-enjoyment standpoint we need to bring everyone into today’s times,” said Nelson.

The state’s spending limit for each system is up to $160,000 for a capital — or start up — cost, then a maximum of $135 per month for utility costs.

Here’s how the numbers stack up so far:

  • Team Dowl: $75-80,000 capital, $135 a month for operations.
  • Team Summit: $75,000 capital, $120 a month for operations.
  • Team UAA is still working out figures but says the costs are similar to those set by the state.

The top designs will be field tested in homes in fall 2017.

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