Keeping an eye on the river

Borough emergency managers have been keeping a wary eye on the Kenai River this week, as an ice jam in the Poacher’s Cove and Big Eddy area last week caused a quick rise in water levels.

While water levels have held steady and no flooding has been reported, the report of ice jamming on the river — the second such report of the week — serves as a reminder to Kenai Peninsula residents, particularly those living along the river, to respect the power of the river.

In 2007, ice jamming and flooding scoured the banks of the Kenai River, from Skilak Lake all the way to Cook Inlet. Moving ice mangled fishwalks, docks and stairs all along the bank, much of it believed to have been moved high enough to be out of harm’s way. The cost of all that damage was estimated to be $3.5 million.

Longer-term residents of the Kenai Peninsula might remember the damaging floods of 1995, and the old-timers among us will recall 1969, when ice jams backed up water to its highest recorded level in Soldotna, 22.69 feet.

While those major events resulted in extensive damage, small flooding events are fairly common along the river. Indeed, the first ice jam of last week sent water across Big Eddy Road before finding a channel and receding.

Fortunately, recent events have been minor. Several things can cause flooding along the Kenai River — ice jamming, heavy rain or quickly melting snow, the release of lakes behind the glaciers that feed the watershed — and people along the river should always be aware that conditions can and do change quickly. Websites for the borough’s Office of Emergency Management and the Gilman River Center offer links to Federal Emergency Management Agency brochures to help residents be prepared for flooding. Among them:

* Know your area’s flood risk. If you’re unsure, call the OEM at 262-4910 or the River Center at 260-4882. City planning and zoning departments also have flood risk information.

* Assemble a disaster supplies kit containing essential medications; canned food and can opener; at least three gallons of water per person; protective clothing, rainwear, and bedding or sleeping bags; battery-powered radio, flashlight, and extra batteries; special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members; and written instructions for how to turn off electricity, gas and water if authorities advise you to do so.

* Know where you need to go if you are required to evacuate, whether it’s to a friend’s home, a shelter or another town.
More information is available online at www.kenairivercenter.org/Agencies/Floodplain/Floodplain.htm, or www2.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency/prepared/flood.htm.

The Kenai River is a wonderful resource for our community, but we also need to be prepared for those times when nature flexes its muscle.

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