Ice jam moves downriver

Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2007


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  Spectators watch as ice backs up under the then brand-new Kenai River bridge in Soldotna in 1967. Photo by Bill Allen/Kenai Penins

Ice sits on the heavily damaged boardwalk on the Kenai River below the Soldotna Visitors Center as stairs from the structure sit in the river Tuesday afternoon.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Water levels measured at the Soldotna Bridge Tuesday morning were well under flood stage and a decided improvement for Sunday’s peak depth of 20 feet, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management.

The water depth was just 7.87 feet. Flood stage is 12 feet.

The water level began dropping quickly early Monday morning when an ice jam at the bridge broke free and moved downstream, reforming at Slikok Creek, about two miles downriver from the Soldotna Bridge, where it remained a threat to cause local flooding as water backed up behind it. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Kenai River remained in flood-warning status from the Soldotna Bridge to the river’s mouth, and was expected to remain in that status until 5 p.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

An update issued by the OEM Tuesday morning said the ice jam at Slikok Creek had grown to more than a mile and extended a half-mile downriver to near Poachers Cove. Water appeared to be backing up behind the jam.

An afternoon update issued at around 4 p.m. Tuesday said the ice jam had been progressing downstream at the rate of around two miles per day, and was hung up at that point about one mile above Poachers Cove. Some over-bank flooding had been observed in the vicinity.

Emergency officials said significant risk remained that when the new ice jam released, it could send large flows of water and ice downstream into the Poachers Cove and Big Eddy areas. The areas of most concern Tuesday were low-lying areas between River Miles 18 and 14. Any significant release of ice and debris could be expected to affect property within that zone, OEM said.

That would include Knight Drive and Poachers Cove neighborhoods, and the Big Eddy to Stewarts Landing neighborhoods. River Quest and Poachers Cove were considered most likely to experience heavy ice and debris buildup. Along with ice, OEM warned, water would likely back up quickly around Big Eddy and could cause significant, rapid flooding. Property owners were being warned to watch for rising water and be prepared to evacuate if necessary.

Meanwhile upriver, water depths had leveled off at Skilak Lake by Tuesday. Earlier readings had shown the lake discharging over 6,600 cubic feet of water per second into the river, nearly three times normal levels for this time of year, OEM said.

On Monday, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation began advising residents using wells to begin boiling water used for drinking, cooking, cleaning and personal hygiene. That practice should continue until homeowners can sanitize and test their well water. Residents also have been asked to monitor their sewer system, as floodwaters may have caused damage.

For further information, call the Soldotna DEC office at 262-5210.


Spectators watch as ice backs up under the then brand-new Kenai River bridge in Soldotna in 1967.

Photo by Bill Allen/Kenai Penins

While the ice and flood danger are not over, a quick look at the ice jams suggests a major cleanup effort may be necessary. As it moved downriver, the ice tore up and carried away an assortment of debris, including stairs, handrails, fish-cleaning tables, broken lumber from docks and fishing platforms, uprooted trees and other items. If left in place, there is the potential at least that the debris could interfere later with boat traffic and fishing.

So when the ice melts away, how would that material be removed from the river?

“That’s a very good question and one we are working on right now,” said Bill Popp, public information officer for the borough. “The answers will take a while to develop. It’s at the top of our list, once we get into the assessment and mitigation phase of this event.”

Popp was reached around midday Tuesday, as he was about to deliver an update to a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience.

Icing events are not an annual occurrence, but this one is far from unique. Ice flows have ripped up manmade structures and torn down foliage, and set the concoction adrift in the past. The Kenai River, along with a dozen other peninsula rivers, has a fairly well mapped floodplain, and information about living within it can be found at the Kenai River Center’s Floodplain Administration Office, at KenaiRiverCenter/default. htm.

On its Web page, the Office of Emergency Management has a dump history of Skilak Glacier Dammed Lake, a lake behind Skilak Glacier.

The last one to occur in January was in 1969. At the time, the Kenai River was covered in ice and the water coursing out of the lake caused ice-jam flooding downriver. The river level at Soldotna was the highest ever recorded, at 22.62 feet on Jan. 18, 1969.

Most flooding resulting from Skilak Glacier Dammed Lake dumps has occurred in the fall months of October and November, but occasionally in September and once, in 1974, in August.

Just how much damage was done by the moving ice and who lost structures has yet to be determined. Even the Kenai River Center was not immune, losing a portion of the metal staircase leading to the river’s edge to the passing ice.

The OEM has requested that all property owners who have suffered damage or property losses due to the ice and flooding document those losses with photographs and damage estimates, and make reports to their insurance companies.

They’re also asked to fill out damage reports for the OEM, which can be found at emergency. Periodic updates regarding the flooding can be found at the same Web site.

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