Flooding closes Sterling Highway near Anchor Point

Water levels running high

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2002

Spring in Alaska means frozen residents can finally dig out from beneath those mountains of accumulated winter snow. However, once that snow melts, it has to go somewhere, and that means area streams have to carry lots of water to the ocean. Sometimes, too much water.

So far, flooding has not been much of a problem this spring on the peninsula. However, that does not mean area rivers are staying entirely within their banks. The Anchor River in Anchor Point has been the most problematic thus far.

The Sterling Highway was partially closed Monday afternoon after a section along the Blackwater Bend of the Anchor River near Mile 160 became submerged under about a foot of water, said Carl High, superintendent for the Kenai Peninsula District Department of Transportation.

"We had some flooding initially due to ice jams, but those have broken up and flushed out. Now we have higher than normal runoff in the tributaries," High said.

A 150-foot-long section of pavement was damaged by the overflowing river, but damage was mostly on the shoulders. Crews will likely repair it this summer.

By Wednesday, the highway had been reopened, and the river seems to have crested, according to the National Resource Conservation Service.

"I think the worst is over on the Anchor River," said Dave Streubel, a hydrologist with the NRCS who has been actively monitoring river levels across the state.

High said the Anchor River will be monitored throughout this week. If the river floods again, he said drivers should stay away and use the Old Sterling Highway detour.

The Anchor isn't the only peninsula river officials are watching closely. The state maintains a database that records snowpack in the mountains and assesses the potential for flooding in the streams below.

Streubel says the potential for flooding in peninsula streams this spring is minimal, but still bears watching.

"Right now we're not really expecting any flooding. If we have a normal spring," Streubel said Wednesday.

According to the NRCS, snowpack in the Kenai Mountains this winter was between 10 and 30 percent above normal. However, that figure doesn't mean peninsula streams will experience flooding. Streubel said that, given past precipitation models, he doesn't expect any major flooding this spring.

However, that could all change.

"If we get a bunch of rain it could increase the probability of a flood due to rainfall," Streubel said.

He noted that although rivers such as the Kenai and Kasilof are not expected to jump their banks, river levels will remain high.

"The Kenai River likely will remain higher than average through June and July," due to the above average snowmelt, Streubel said.

Barring a major deluge of rainfall, though, peninsula residents can expect to remain mostly high and dry this summer.

Homer News reporter Carey James contributed to this story.

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