It has been about six months since the Kalifornsky Beach area saw rising groundwater creep into basements and crawlspaces and infiltrate septic systems and drinking water wells.
While the borough installed culverts throughout the area and completed a drainage project from Karluk Avenue under K-Beach Road out to Cook Inlet, the area is still being assessed to determine exact causes and possible solutions as some residents continue to pump water out of their homes.
Sherrie Dahlen, who lives off of Bore Tide Drive, said she’s pumping water every single day.
“We were going around the clock, pumping, to get this done when it happened otherwise we wouldn’t have been in our house,” she said. “We would have lost it.”
While the borough and state officials have discussed mitigation strategies, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency is unlikely to be available until after this construction season.
The federal disaster declaration allows for consideration for mitigation projects, if a need can be demonstrated, Navarre said. In the mean time, he said the borough has been monitoring the area and will continue to do so and identify potential areas of concern.
“One of the reasons we’re taking a bit of wait and see approach is that last year was the first time in that area that we saw that type of flood event,” Navarre said. “So we don’t want to overreact and start taking what could be very expensive actions unless we can demonstrate that it’s going to be something that requires that type of action.”
The Department of Natural Resources has authority over water movement so any project the borough is considering has to be approved by the agency. Department of Transportation and Public Facilities infrastructure also has to be taken into consideration when looking at options, Navarre said.
“There’s a perception that we can do a big drainage plan and we’ll solve the problem,” Navarre said. “There’s a lot more to it than that, a lot of agencies to coordinate with and then the whole issue of draining and the impact of draining a wetlands area. There’s a whole host of information and analyses that need to be done before. There’s no simple solution.”
DNR Division of Mining Land and Water Chief of the Water Resources Section David Schade said some solutions have been suggested, but until studies are done, they’re just ideas. He said the state assigned a hydrologist to the area to conduct further studies.
While ditching — to a degree — can help some surface water issues, Schade said, the area needs to be carefully studied before significant ditching is done.
“We have to look at the subsurface of the area and try to figure out where, if any, places could be done to move water away from the houses without inundating another area and that’s the problem,” he said. “Some people suggest to move it off their property, but analysis would indicate that it would go onto somebody else’s and just move the problem from one place to another. And that is not in the state’s idea of being acceptable.”
Schade said one K-Beach resident, David Yragui, filed an application for a five-year temporary water use permit to build a berm along the east and south borders of the property to divert water. The application was received, on March 3, according to DNR’s website, but closed on Tuesday after it was withdrawn. The borough filed an opposition to the permit application and collected comments from K-Beach residents about the project. Navarre said most of the residents were not in favor of the project.
One action Scott Walden, borough emergency management director, recommended residents can take is to keep driveway culverts clear as much as possible to ensure water flow or equalization.
Schade said officials don’t have a “clear cut” answer for what caused the flood, but it was a combination of factors including high snowfalls and water pushed in nontraditional directions.
Navarre said the area already had high ground water and the higher than average rainfall last summer likely overwhelmed the situation.
“If it took a couple years to build to this level, it may take a couple years for it to go back to whatever normal is or this would be the new normal,” Walden said. “We don’t know.”
Schade said some K-Beach residents reported the water table rose again following the January warm snap. He expected the reports about basements re-flooding to come in sooner than they did, so the state is looking into why it occurred at the rate it did. Water ran along Karluk Avenue in the ditch all winter, Schade said, which surprised him because it previously did not have a continuous flow. The borough and state are studying the cause and effect of that anomaly.
“We’ll be studying it and watching it this summer,” he said.
He said because the area didn’t see significant snow following the January thaw, spring breakup likely won’t wreak as much havoc as it otherwise could have.
Clare Swan, a Karluk Avenue resident, said her home fared well compared to others and water in the area seems to be going down right now. However, she’s concerned about what will happen with the water table after the weather “really warms up.”
“I’m just waiting for spring,” she said. “It would just be lovely to be able to say we’re high and dry.”
While state and borough officials seek answers for causes and solutions, flood victims from throughout the Kenai Peninsula can ask questions of their own at the Flood Aware Fair today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-7 p.m. at the Donald Gilman River Center in Soldotna.
Representatives from the KPB Home builders Association, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration River Watch, area technical experts and borough departments will be available.
“(The fair) is a very positive step from the borough’s perspective,” Walden said.