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Kenai River hydrocarbon levels continue to meet standards

Posted: August 26, 2011 - 8:00am  |  Updated: August 26, 2011 - 9:16am

Testing on the Kenai River once again yielded very low levels of total aromatic hydrocarbons in the water, according to Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director Robert Ruffner.

"The bottom line is that the samples showed values for 500 boats, we had 2.5 parts per billion total aromatic hydrocarbons in the water," Ruffner said. "Which is substantially less than the 10 parts per billion standard."

The testing takes place during the spring and summer each year, as long as grant money is available. This summer's testing took place on July 23 and July 26.

The 10 parts per billion standard was established by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in conjunction with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and other natural resource agencies, Ruffner said.

In 2010, the Kenai River was removed from the DEC Impaired Waters list because of two consecutive years meeting the water standards, which has been attributed to regulations that require cleaner burning motors on the river.

The river was placed on the Impaired Waters list in 2006 due to excessive hydrocarbon levels in July.

"We moved the water from a ‘4b' water which means it was contaminated with a plan to fix it to ‘category 2' that says it's meeting the water quality standards for that particular parameter - being hydrocarbons," said Tim Stevens, Environmental Program Specialist for DEC.

The tests, Ruffner said, involve about 25 people testing for 17 parameters at 22 sites on the river.

"In general we look at bacteria, nutrients, metals and hydrocarbons," Ruffner said. "And there's subsets of all that stuff, up to 17 parameters."

For now, Stevens is confident the river will not return to the Impaired Waters list.

"We think at this time the river will always meet standards until there are too many boats in the river," he said. "There's no magic number as to how many boats that will take."

Each year, the Kenai Watershed Forum must apply for a grant through DEC that will allow the testing to take place. Ruffner said in his experience, the river has always been toward the top of the state's priority list.

"The Kenai is a pretty important system to a lot of people in the state," he said. "Since I've been in the business, it's always been ranked fairly high in their priorities in trying to find out what's going on out there."

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