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Portable Alternative Sanitation System (PASS)

  • Need: To bring a low-cost water and sanitation system to an Alaska Native village with no running water or sewer system.
  • Intervention: The Portable Alternative Sanitation System (PASS) collects and treats water and disposes waste without traditional piping.
  • Results: Residents in the pilot project reported that PASS was cleaner and healthier than the self-haul method.


Self-Haul System In the Alaska Native village of Kivalina in the northwestern part of the state, residents' houses have no running water or sewer system. A lack of piped water to the home results in severe rationing and water reuse practices. Toilets consist of a five-gallon bucket with a trash bag inside, and residents haul their own waste to the landfill. This lack of available sanitation and potential exposure to sewage can lead to water contamination and health concerns.

To address this lack of plumbing, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), along with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center and other partners, designed the Portable Alternative Sanitation System (PASS). PASS is a low-cost water and sanitation system that does not require traditional piping. The use of external wall-mounted piping allows the system to be moved if the homeowner has to relocate due to climate impacts, such as permafrost melt, erosion, or flooding.

The pilot program was funded by the Indian Health System (IHS) and ANTHC.

Services offered

PASS comprises the following components:

  • Rain catchment system
  • Water treatment system to ensure safe drinking water for the home
  • 100-gallon water storage tank
  • Low-flow sink and waterless urinal
  • Toilet that separates solid waste from liquid
  • Ventilation system to dry out solid waste, eliminating odor and easing the hauling-out process
PASS diagram


August 2016 marked the first completed year of the Kivalina PASS pilot project, in which nine households participated. Residents reported that PASS was healthier, cleaner, and less work-intensive than the previous "honey bucket" self-hauling system.

As of November 2019, PASS 2.0 has been reengineered and installed in 6 rural communities that lack piped infrastructure: Kivalina, Oscarville, Mertarvik, Chalkyitsik, Allakaket, and Alatna.

In March 2019, the PASS project went into its full manufacturing phase. Funding has been secured for 50 additional units in Kivalina and 21 installed in Mertarvik, the relocation village of Newtok.

PASS example
A PASS unit in a Kivalina home

For more information regarding PASS:

Alaska Dispatch News video: New Sanitation System Tested in Kivalina

KYUK Public Media for Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta: Innovators Look for Water and Sewer Alternatives For Arctic Communities

Environment & Energy Publishing: Alaskan Village Fights for Clean Water Before It Disappears


Acquiring funding to design and pilot this innovative system was challenging, since traditional funders want to see the project be successful before they invest. In addition, remote logistic challenges and high transportation costs complicate any response to needs within the community.


In order to replicate this project successfully, a team needs to build good rapport with community members and ensure that onsite training is adequate and comprehensive so that residents are able to operate and maintain the systems with very little assistance.

Another component is setting up a response system that includes local labor knowledgeable about the system. ANTHC hires local labor to help install the systems and recommends setting up an informal system where homeowners are able to call locally and receive help with troubleshooting, maintenance, and repairs.

Contact Information

Jackie Qataliña Schaeffer, Senior Project Manager
Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC)

American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians

States served

Date added
November 14, 2016

Date updated or reviewed
November 12, 2019

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.