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A Kenai River "curtain of death"?

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  • A Kenai River "curtain of death"?

    Along with hydrocarbon pollution of the Kenai River, fecal coliform pollution is also a threat. See the letter below, sent by the Kenai River Special Management Area's board to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

    November 20, 2006

    Bill Smyth
    Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
    610 University Ave.
    Fairbanks, AK 99709

    Re: Development in the Kenai River Corridor

    Dear Mr. Smyth:

    The Kenai River Special Management Area (KRSMA) Advisory Board has supported water quality monitoring studies on the Kenai River for many years by the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Department of Environmental Conservation. Those studies have resulted in the recent proposal for listing a portion of the Kenai River as impaired for hydrocarbons according to Section 303(b) 5 of the Federal Clean Water Act. The KRSMA Board has responded to that proposal under a separate letter. However, those water quality studies also revealed a serious issue of fecal coliform pollution in portions of the river which is not adequately addressed. This letter requests the DEC take immediate and appropriate action to investigate sources of fecal coliform and potential sources of such contamination in order to protect the Kenai River.

    The KRSMA Board believes that continued unchecked development in the floodplain poses equal or potentially greater risks than seasonal hydrocarbon issues. In addition to evidence of fecal coliform in the water quality studies, the KRSMA Board has viewed with alarm the seemingly unfettered developments adjacent to the Kenai River which, in the board’s view, have or may have inadequate sewage systems or systems that are vulnerable to flooding since they are located within the floodplain. In particular, the Board is concerned over the continuing development of a recent subdivision which has a sewage lagoon contained with an earthen dike within the floodplain. We understand that the DEC no longer inspects residential sewage systems, whether they are single lots or major subdivisions, and therefore did not review and approve plans or inspect the construction of the open sewage lagoon for this subdivision. We learned that there are several planned developments which we expect will have similar, and in our view, inadequate and dangerous sewage systems. All of these subdivisions are in the floodplain and our collective experience is that sewage lagoons are going to be flooded thereby flushing the sewage directly into the river. The great risk to the health of the river and its inhabitants is not being addressed.

    For these reasons, the KRSMA Board specifically requests the DEC immediately review plans and inspect all current and planned major sewage systems near or adjacent to the river. We appreciate that budgetary problems may impact DEC’s ability to perform such inspections; however, we strongly encourage DEC to do whatever is necessary to do such vitally important work. In the board’s view, this problem could easily dwarf other potential sources of contamination and must be addressed.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Board.


    Ken Lancaster
    President, KRSMA Advisory Board

    CC: Kenai Peninsula Borough
    City of Kenai
    City of Soldotna
    AK Dept. of Natural Resources
    AK Dept. of Fish and Game
    Kenai Watershed Forum

  • #2
    "Curtain of Death" I don't know about that title. Looks like the KRSMA board is being a very active participant in all of this.


    • #3
      That's what they're there for. . .

      That's exactly what they're there for. It's the KENAI RIVER SPECIAL MANAGEMENT AREA — see this site for enabling legislation:

      The "curtain of death" thing is a semi-serious play on the derogatory designation used by opponents of Cook Inlet's gill-net industry, who contend the salmon must swim through a "curtain of death" in order to spawn.

      As it is, what with hydrocarbons and fecal coliform, spawning and juvenile salmon are threated with another "curtain of death" consisting of polluted water in the river itself.

      "Though the fate of salmon rests in human hands, it is not clear that we will be able to save them even if our society wants to. Part of the problem lies in the conflict between the inherent uncertainty of the natural sciences and the certainty demanded by policy makers when balancing natural resource protection against economic opportunities." (King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon, Montgomery, Westview Press, 2003)

      Economic opportunities include commercial use of the river itself as well as unregulated development of the environment.


      • #4
        Yah, I know that is what they are there for, I just couldn't come up with something else to type, brain freeze I guess.

        I wonder why the fecal coliform wasn't talked about more in previous discussions by DNR or DEC?

        Also, does anyone know about the open sewage lagoons talked about.

        One thing that really surprised me on the river this year was the size and proximity to the river the development was at the old River Quest, aka Porters. I did not think those would even be close to legal, not even close to 50 ft.

        Run-off is running through my mind right now, does any one know if there is water testing done during spring run-off/break-up?


        • #5

          Would not the shear volumne of water along with annual spring flooding that goes down the river have a tendency to make it "self cleaning"?

          Or, do the hydrocarbons flow to the bottom of the river and contaminate the bottom?

          When do they take their measurements? April, August, December. Taking any measurements in August would seem to tilt the research towards the negative.

          Anyone have some answers?

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          • #6
            My opinion. . .

            Here's my take, yukon. Hydrocarbon pollution has been a concern for years as is fecal coliform pollution of the Kenai. There are, however, some who would like to keep this sort of thing under wraps. Bad for business?

            Just as with the whole rural/subsistence thing, special interests have precipitated the current state of affairs. A past state legislator told me that the Alaska Outdoor Council's political efforts were the single biggest reason that Alaska's citizens were never allowed to vote on a constitutional amendment to bring the state's constitution into line with federal law. Uncle Ted held the feds off for years, but in the end, the feds lost patience and did as federal law required them to do, taking over management of fish and game in Alaska on federal lands.

            Had Alaskans been allowed to vote, there's little doubt in my mind that the citizenry would have voted for a rural preference. Had that happened, we wouldn't be facing feds and the state of affairs that confront us regarding the upper Kenai rural fishery.

            And had the hydrocarbon pollution been addressed by state agencies when it first became known, we wouldn't now be dealing with an impaired listing with the feds—the EPA—in violation of the Clean Water Act. Special interests?

            The hydrocarbon thing is, in my mind, relatively easy to deal with compared to the long-term threat of fecal coliform pollution and other forms of habitat degradation more insidious than outboard gas. To deal with the hydrocarbons we need only mandate clean-burning motors, more drift days, and, as pressure increases due to population, more drift days or limited use as is done currently with other public-property recreational resources.

            But every time a new house is built, new property developed, new sewer lines laid, or a new septic tank installed, the threat becomes greater, especially when we're talking about development close to the river like the one you mentioned. Get acquainted with the Kenai Watershed Forum and its director, Robert Ruffner—he's very knowledgeable and very accessible.

            There are answers available to all your questions—provided you know the problem exists and whom to ask for the answer.

            Welcome to the new Alaska. These problems are not going to go away.


            • #7
              Answers galore. . .

              Originally posted by Daveinthebush View Post
              Anyone have some answers?
              Dave, review the 50 horsepower and impaired listing threads, especially the posts by Nerka — he has explained the data, the sampling, and the problems attendant to hydrocarbon pollution very thoroughly. Alternatively, contact the Kenai Watershed Forum here:

              Good luck. . .


              • #8
                First off, you're likely to get a postive fecal coliform test in just about any body of surface water. Unless you can eliminate animals from pooping in the entire watershed, it's going to happen. Not to say humans don't have an impact, just that there are other causes out there.

                Secondly, the specific "sewage lagoon" mentioned was merely a dewatering pond.

                Thirdly, why didn't the "concerned board" ever file a complaint with DEC back in August when they learned about it? This could entail a simple phone call saying "Hi, this is John Doe and I have concerns about what looks to be a sewage lagoon at so and so location." Then the folks at DEC would go check things out.
                Last edited by akfishinguy; 11-21-2006, 17:25. Reason: spelling


                • #9
                  flooding as we speak

                  With the river ice dam situation in the lower river as we speak, It reminds me of that fall river flood we had several years ago, when propane tanks, old camp trailers, building materials, and anything else the water could grab really got wild down around the lower river. Infact I went up river in my boat to see what was going on above bings landing. I went to the boat launch at bings, and the water was up to where they keep the life jackets for the kids.... I went on up to Skilak and launched and came down to the area below the keys.. I saw people on the Funny river side of the river wading around and so I drove over to see what they had to say..
                  They told me that there septic tank was trying to float out of the ground, as the river water table had risen high enough that it became a bouy.
                  they said that they had just had it pumped a few weeks earlier..... oh man.....
                  anyway,, it came out of the ground and the lines busted..
                  I saw it and heard about dozens of similar situations where the flood water just filled the tanks and then ,,, as Jed Clampet used to sing..." Out from the ground came a bubbling Grude.".... lol
                  When I heard that water was getting under cabin property now on the kenai due to these ice dams, I guess I just have this vivid imagination of human sewage in the river.... or am I wrong??? I know you Kenai river property owners think your stuff doesn't stink.. but .. well.. reality is anouther issue we all
                  good Call Marcus...
                  I have somewhere a picture of the Izak walton boat launch where the water is going down the paved portion of that campground, and is flooded to the dumpster, and I also have a picture of the Bings landing when the water was up to the Kids don't float sign.. I gotta dig them up and scan them.. you would not believe how far up the river was... they said it was at or above the 100 yr flood plain,, so that happened about 10 or 12 yrs ago,, so we have about 88 years before the next one right???
                  What to do???? . and who is responsible for their sewage getting into the river????? I wonder........
                  Hey remember that there was a drive for $$$ to help in the clean during and after that flood.? Now why would anyone want to help out people that choose to live along a river that is going to flood? Do you go bail out people that make choices like that? They can afford the most expensive property on the entire peninsula, and then ask the poor folks that live away from the river and can't or don't want to live on the river for financial help???
                  Now I can see it... The DEC comes up with the regultion that anyone that lives within the 100 yr flood plain needs to have a closed sewer system, so it can't find itself to the river... the people have to either pump the sewage up hill to a location above the flood plain, or have the tanks pumped when they get near full...... I bet if that happens. these people that can afford to live along the river will try to get some Government aid in the form of Grants etc to get someone else to pay for it... Its like one guy I know was writing a Grant for money so he could make his river property shoreline from washing away, and making nests for the smolts to hide.. this dude has enough money to burn a Wet dog.. and he is trying to get the average joe tax payer through Government Grants to fix up his property so it becomes worth more due to his Aluminum fishing platform....
                  this is such an interesting forum..
                  Last edited by Alaskacanoe; 11-21-2006, 18:13.
                  When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!

                  Rentals for Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, boats serving the Kenai canoe trail system and the Kenai river for over 15 years.


                  • #10
                    Fortunately for the fish the devolopement is all lower river and most of the fish spawn upstream in protected areas, that have much cleaner water. I do agree that we must curb devolopement along the riverband. Its my personal belief that devolopement of any sort outside of docks and those conservation walkways should not be allowed below the historical high water mark to curb property damage and to protect water quality via wetlands along banks, forests to prevent errosion etc.
                    I choose to fly fish, not because its easy, but because its hard.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by ak_powder_monkey View Post
                      Fortunately for the fish the devolopement is all lower river and most of the fish spawn upstream in protected areas, that have much cleaner water.
                      That may be where the adults spawn, but all that nearshore riparian habitat in the lower river is what the juvenile fish rear in... it's their nursery, particularly chinook fry/parr. I read somewhere that 80% of the baby kings can be found within 10 ft of the bank. Need proof? Just toss a morsel of salmon eggs into the water from any tree-lined bank in July, and watch 100's or even 1000's of king fry materialize out of no where! A phenomenon I always marveled at as a kid ( and oh so painfully missing from our WA streams)... too cool!
                      "Let every angler who loves to fish think what it would mean to him to find the fish were gone." Zane Grey
                      The KeenEye MD


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