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Thread: Water quality on Alaskan Rivers…and more

  1. #1
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Water quality on Alaskan Rivers…and more

    Water quality is no doubt excellent, but not always pristine as I used to think. A winter rehash of some AOD posts, some from 2007, struck me as thoughtful comments by experienced rafters – sometimes humorous, a little ranting, but mostly concerns and good ideas about the impact of access/use on popular rivers. Most posts were about waste removal, but a broader message was for Alaskans to begin pondering and discussing what’s happening now, where we’re headed and who will determine culture/policy to protect public use rivers for those that follow.

    1. First, from Lower-48 streams, some advice from guides:
    -“Pack plenty of water. Because the water on our wild rivers is no longer drinkable…” (from p.32: The Guide’s Guide Augmented: Reflections on Guiding Professional River Trips by William McGinnis, 2005)
    -“The regulation prohibiting camping within 200 feet of water and trails also has to do with aesthetics and consideration for others” (from p.114: NOLS Wilderness Guide, by Mark Harvey, 1999).

    2. Next, from AOD posts about a popular road system river, the Upper Gulkana, which, for all the traffic it gets, is still in wonderful shape. Still, here are some good glimpses of problems described on one stretch of Alaska water:
    http://forums.outdoorsdirectory.com/...ad.php?t=14998
    -Some people think if there is a fire ring it should be used as a dump site for everything from batteries to glass… I can tolerate my dog rolling on a dead salmon carcass but human waste and TP is most disgusting. I will never understand that mentality.
    -I'm in favor of common sense and some regulations but do not want to see this go to a controlled river…I guess those of us who care about our wilderness will continue to clean up after those who abuse it. Kinda like spring clean-up day in Fairbanks, where so many pick up after so few.
    -We ran in to the same mess you did at the campsites, so this year we'll be taking a rocket box and hauling out all our waste. Something has to happen to get the human waste problem under control - even two years ago it was disgusting…we end up taking out more garbage from the campsites that we take in.
    -Thank all of you who take the time to care and pack out what others have left behind.
    -The flood last year must have really flushed out a lot of the human "debris" and camp trash because even though there were lots potty piles, it was nothing like we saw two years ago. We took a "groover" with us (party of 7) which worked very well.
    -We were passed... by 3 guys on a cat... had a couple of guns... shooting just for the fun of it right around the corner upstream from our camp…They also bragged about catching a king which I believe is illegal that far up the river (about 5 miles below the lake)... the only bad part of an otherwise good trip.
    -Great to see that most people using the river this past 4 days had some form of portable toilet system!
    -Anyone doing this river please pick up your trash and use a groover (or at least follow the BLM rules for human waste disposal)! And enjoy the trip - it's a beautiful river.

    3. Think it’s not happening on remote streams? AOD Posts about growing problems on remote Alaska rivers, from: http://forums.outdoorsdirectory.com/...ad.php?t=49613
    -does seem to be a growing issue...Especially more visited rivers. The Alagnak comes to mind.
    -Reading about the probs and management along the Gulkana R strikes me as a model for things we could see elsewhere. We're a long way from use permits and other restrictions, but for situational awareness and education there's no time like the present - and an informed proactive AK fishing/hunting/floating culture would be better positioned to manage.
    -However, I'd be hard pressed on a fly-out trip to substitute this for a case of beer if it came down to a weight choice. Butt, it's sure nice having a seat and greatly appreciated by the ladys.
    -This turd post has turned fruitful. Great ideas guys. With some rivers in Alaska being overused and with so many of the rivers going by native villages that use the water, a more dilligent approach to waste removal is needed... As we continue to use these rivers, I feel this will become mandatory float trip equipment for all of us in the near future. That is already the case on some rivers with the "carry it out" rule. None of us want to pull up on a gravel bar and see catholes all over the place. Surely, there is a better way to do things. Keep the ideas coming.
    -...I agree with all of you that although it's not mandatory yet, it's a good practice anyway and there are lots of products out there that make it easy.
    -Please note that most of the plastic bag type groovers are not legal on mandatory waste removal rivers in the lower 48,.. the same thing might eventualy apply in AK.
    -Sad, ultimately the issue is lazyness. If people would carry a trenching tool and hike 100yds from the river then bury their pile all would be well. It seems more reasonable to make a no poo corridor and mandatory burial rather than make people haul out the additional "load".
    -but even buried 100 yards doesn't work with a high traffic area
    -From a Public Health/Sanitation perspective, pit toilets can be safely established following simple guidelines. It's not as simple in the wild, where animals might dig up waste... but some guidelines would be better than no guidelines...
    -Backcountry Sanitation in Denali National Park -Neither pit nor chemical toilets are available in the Denali National Park backcountry. You must be prepared for proper waste disposal:
    • Dig a hole at least 6 inches (15 centimeters) deep for fecal waste.
    • Such holes must be dug at least 200 feet (60 meters) away from water.
    • Pack out all toilet paper and sanitation products. Some veteran campers in Alaska burn their toilet paper, but campfires aren’t permitted in Denali National Park.
    -I'd hate to have the job of selling the idea of no TP to Alaska outdoorsfolk, but it does give an idea what it takes to maintain pristine conditions in areas pressured by population/use.

    And: http://www.forums.outdoorsdirectory.....php?p=88811#:
    -I spoke to a ranger involved with the Kisaralik (I can't remember for sure if it was the Kisaralik or another river) just a few weeks ago. The guy was working out of the office in Dillingham and he said that there are currently regulations in place requiring folks to pack out human waste out there. It seems that lots of folks are pooping near the river and downstream samples are starting to show contamination. He even said people have been carrying water out there too. I guess it's a glimpse of the future for us, whether we want it or not. I hate to see this happening to our rivers...
    -I have heard rumors of proposals for the same regulations on the Kongakut. If we want a pristine wilderness experience, and several hundred/thousand all want the same experience, we have to put up with the regulations that keep the place pristine. Just think of what the bottom of Grand Canyon would look like if the 20,000 annual boaters all pooped in cat holes. Packing it out is the only reasonable alternative, I suppose. Alaska's time will come. Perhaps sooner than I like to think.

    Water quality, regulations, the cost of remote access making it tougher to get further away...what to do? Probs and management along the Gulkana River could be a model for our future. We're a long way (maybe not?) from use permits and other restrictions on most streams, but for situational awareness and education there's no time like the present. Who better to decide than an informed, proactive Alaska fishing/hunting/floating/boating culture? Da future is us.

    Oh, one more - from brav01: "Just reading this thread has pooped me out. "Gotta' go" ! "

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    Member danattherock's Avatar
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    Default

    Good post man. This is definitely something we all should give more thought to. Once upon a time, all of our rivers were pristine. That list is dwindling for sure.
    The two loudest sounds known to man: a gun that goes bang when it is supposed to go click and a gun that goes click when it is supposed to go bang.

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    Default Nice Job D

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together well thought out and a very good read. Just think if we had roads to all places Alaskan.

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Roads and such-

    Quote Originally Posted by BlueMoose View Post
    Thanks for taking the time to put this together well thought out and a very good read. Just think if we had roads to all places Alaskan.
    Moose,

    We DO have roads to all places Alaska; they're our rivers.

    I know you knew that!

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

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    Default

    The EARTH has Skin Cancer........and Humans are the Cancer. A little cancer is no big deal, seven billion humans is getting to be an issue, and it doubles every 31 years. Nice thread. Well done.

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    Member BlueMoose's Avatar
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    Default Got Me

    MIke you are correct Rivers are Roads. Man don't tell my extended relatives living and dead I got this wrong after 400 years in the Great North Land from Quebec to Alaska I should have gotten that one! Dang!

    Can I use a life line or call a friend?

    :-)

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Well...

    Quote Originally Posted by BlueMoose View Post
    MIke you are correct Rivers are Roads. Man don't tell my extended relatives living and dead I got this wrong after 400 years in the Great North Land from Quebec to Alaska I should have gotten that one! Dang!

    Can I use a life line or call a friend?

    :-)
    I guess that makes us float-trippers road hunters?

    Hmm....

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Shane Mahoney speech - Sports Afield, May/June 2009

    I don't know anything about Mr. Mahoney, but according to Sports Afield, he addressed the Dallas Safari Club and a few things he said, caught my attention and seemed relevant:

    "Conservation is not a side issue. Conservation of the resources of this world will determine the fate of this planet".

    According the the magazine, he spoke about hunting (duh, Safari Club), the roots of the conservation movement, promoted by Teddy Roosevelt, the Boone & Crockett Club of America - and how hunting matters, as a vested interest in wildlife/resource use. "You must ensure that conservation, sustainable use and how hunting can play in the conservation of wildlife, remain at the forefront".

    Some points seemed relevant to rafters and fisherfolk too. But it was this quote that made me think of the comments in thread: "We cannot let it slip because we are learning around the world that unless there is vested interest, unless wildlife is valid and has a use, it ultimately disappears".

    Nature tends to be more resilient than we expect, but it surprises me that land use along rivers poses a potential hazard to downstream users - in parts of Alaska. How much of a problem is it? One year, maybe BLM should skip cleaning up the Gulkana - just to make a point?

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    Default More info, not new...for Kanektok floaters

    on the subject, excerpted from: http://www.freshwateradventure.com/H...rFloaters.html

    Quinhagak Village Changes
    The Quinhagak airport is finished! It's great news for pilots but comes with a barrage of changes for the floaters.
    The first and foremost urgent and important to FWA and the locals of Quinhagak is the requirement of scat buckets. This is a reasonable requirement considering the river is the main water source for the entire village. We suggest for sanitation reasons, several garbage compactor bags for the trip that can be sealed up daily and packaged into a ammo can to assure no spillage until it can be discarded in the proper location at the village of Quinhagak...Please purchase quality scat buckets, trash compactor bags and large ammunition cans with quality seals for the upcoming season and be a part of the solution for all villager's and anglers alike.

  10. #10

    Default

    One comment about what is possible. Last year I went on a guided trip down the Grand Canyon. That is without doubt the most heavily regulated and rule inforced river on the planet. I don't like rules and regulations more than anymore than anyone else, but a couple of things impressed me:

    1. It was incredible how garbage and human waste free that river is. There are only a limited number of places to camp, but I think in the whole trip I only saw one bit of litter, which from the way it was worn and abraded appeared to have washed down from way upstream. If I remember correctly the guide said that 20,000 people a year float the grand canyon, and it is nearly spotless!

    2. Another thing that impressed me was how dedicated to protecting the river everyone was (both guides and other users). Yes it is a Park Service requirement to carry out all human waste, trash etc, but everyone I came into contact with seemed to do it mostly out of love for the river and canyon, not just because they would get hassled by the law if they didn't. In terms of trash and environmental impact, I'm sure there are a few @$@#-heads using the Grand Canyon, but I didn't meet any.

    Some people up here don't realize what an incredible thing it is in Alaska that we can just decide to go float a river, without needing permits, launch dates, "mandatory" this, and "required" that. We are very very lucky. The better job we do ourselves of keeping things clean, wild, and natural, the longer it will be before we have to worry about permits and regulations. People float rivers for lots of reasons, some to hunt, some to fish, some for the big rapids, some just to get out of town. We all have a stake in protecting the resource.

    That's my two cents worth.

  11. #11
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default The future vs the practical: perspective

    Quote Originally Posted by overthehill View Post
    ...Another thing that impressed me was how dedicated to protecting the river everyone was (both guides and other users)....
    Wow. Stunning to think what might be possible here. I wonder what it takes to build a culture of caring for the resource like that. Scarcity maybe. I think Shane Mahoney is on to something with the idea, "You must ensure that conservation, sustainable use and how [hunting, fishing, rafting...] can play in the conservation of wildlife, remain at the forefront". We have a number of leaders of the outdoors on this forum, and quite an audience for discussion. Who knows?

    Still, for our trip, considerations included protecting water quality for people living downstream and future users, plus the direct, practical matters like aircraft weight limits, the prospect of hauling waste on the raft, and the requirements of the ladies in our group. Our solution, borrowed from friends in Wasilla, worked well for the river and met the operating requirements for our mixed group of 4, but might not be worthwhile for smaller groups.

    Maybe more in the comfort camping instead of packing light style, our version of the "peepee tipi" (credits to Jack & Patty), used a P.E.T.T. system toilet and bags inside a small ($30) tent from Sixth Avenue, the PETT toilet and WAG bag system worked great - and clean. The tent was also a handy place to change in/out of waders. All packed away into 20# pkg (PETT, bags, tent and dry bag). Burying waste 100 ft from the river wasn't usually bad. We took turns digging an approx 2 ft hole at each campsite. The tent was much appreciated by the ladies in the group. A few minutes away from the sometimes thick bugs were a treat for everyone.

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    Default Water quality on Alaskan streams...

    Perusing spring prep activities, found the KCK website (http://www.kck.org/) already busy, including this:

    Next KCK General Meeting
    March 25: General Meeting at the Wilda Marston Theater of the Loussac Library, 3600 Denali Street 7:00pm
    Andy Reynolds, of Fairbanks Paddlers “AWASTE - Human waste management on Alaska's rivers.”...


    Curious, I clicked on the link - relevant to this thread. Funny name for the project, but an important purpose sounds like:

    "AWASTE aims to educate boaters in Alaska about the impacts of human waste in heavily used river corridors and other bodies of water and the ways in which we can take responsibility for waste management and disposal on our rivers and waterways". See: http://www.awaste.org/ for more.

    And from ADF&G on healthy watersheds for fish: http://www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us/sarr/.../watershed.cfm

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    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    I applaud their effort on heavily used waterways. However, I don't see myself packing a portable toilet for a fly-in trip nor packing out human watse. I'll just ensure everyone knows how to properly dispose of their poop.

    I own an Eco-safe toilet I've used the last 2 summers on the Gulkana. The system works great and on the last trip supported 17 people for a 5 day trip. Clean-up at the end is no more difficult than dumping the waste tank on a RV.

    The BLM required a river user briefing last summer prior to leaving Paxson Lake (hopefully the cranky lady won't be back). The main emphasis was Leave No Trace and human waste management. The BLM had loaner PETT toilet systems available for any groups that didn't have their own system.

    I wish I had thought of such a study. Maybe I could have gotten my summer float activities funded.

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default "Cat holes"

    [QUOTE]: I applaud their effort on heavily used waterways. However, I don't see myself packing a portable toilet for a fly-in trip nor packing out human waste. I'll just ensure everyone knows how to properly dispose of their poop...[QUOTE]

    I hear you on the fly-out weight issue. Cat holes are simple enough - Six inches deep, 200ft from the stream - is what NOLS suggests. The PETT system's handy though - we just dug bigger holes less often and placed inside a little potty tent, made things a little more comfy - esp for the ladies and esp in the rain.

    Bigger issue elsewhere. Addressed more often in the Lower-48:
    http://www.nols.edu/lnt/principles.shtml
    http://www.paddling.net/guidelines/showArticle.html?251

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Thumbs up AWASTE - for a good cause...

    From their project website:

    "The first AWASTE expedition will be an upper Gulkana River trip on June 11-14, 2009. In the course of a four day trip down the upper Gulkana River, participants will “field test” a variety of the systems that are currently being marketed in the U.S. for dealing with human waste on rivers and in the wilderness. The Gulkana River is the perfect location for the first trip; it is a beautiful clearwater stream that also happens to be a Wild and Scenic River and one of the most heavily used of all our streams for multi-day trips."

    More info at: http://awaste.org/

    Bravo, Fairbanks Paddlers and sponsors.

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