EKLUTNA (AP) -- Leaders of the Native Village of Eklutna are hoping to get started on a cleanup plan this summer with the goal of restoring salmon runs to the Eklutna River.
The village has applied for a $70,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to remove a pile of mangled cars and appliances piled high on the side of the river, beneath a 250-foot cliff.
Once the dump is gone the tribe wants to remove an old dam, deepen some of the river's ponds to make better fish habitat, and take back some of the river's water that was long ago allocated for drinking and hydropower. The goal is to restore the river and bring back its once healthy salmon runs.
''We're trying to make sure the fish come back,'' said Lee Stephan, chief executive officer of the Native Village of Eklutna.
For decades, Southcentral residents have sent cars and other objects hurtling off the cliff into the Eklutna River gorge. In addition, the stream has been dammed and diverted and its banks mined for gravel. Its mouth has been moved no fewer than five times because of various projects, said Marc Lamoreaux, natural resources director for the tribe.
Once as large as Ship Creek, Eklutna River today carries just a fraction of its original flow, Lamoreaux said.
If cleaning junk cars from a stream seems a straightforward goal, some of Eklutna's other ideas are bold.
Lamoreaux plans to study taking out a defunct 68-foot-tall hydropower dam, built in the 1920s, near the point where the river leaves its mountain home and winds across the flats toward Cook Inlet.
Lamoreaux said he's asked the military about blowing the dam up as a training exercise. Others have suggested putting in a sluice gate at the bottom of the dam that could be opened to let water through.
Removing the dam poses a problem because it would release the accumulated silt behind the dam, which could smother salmon-spawning habitat, Lamoreaux said.
A second dam upstream at Eklutna Lake presents a different challenge. It supplies water and some electricity to Anchorage and the Mat-Su area. The tribe will ask the electric companies that own the dam to leave more water in the stream.
Almost all the overflow of the lake goes either to the city for its water supply or to three electric companies -- Municipal Light & Power, Chugach Electric and Matanuska Electric Association -- that jointly own the dam. Eklutna River is dry below the Eklutna Lake dam but regenerates downstream from runoff and a feeder stream, Thunderbird Creek.
To get the work done on a shoestring budget, Lamoreaux has asked for help from anyone and everyone, from the Sierra Club to the federal government. A federal grant obtained by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension pays for Lamoreaux's position for the tribe. The DEC, meanwhile, has offered to help identify and dispose of several drums found at the dump.
Last week, Lamoreaux toured the river with scientists from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Resources Conservation Service and the Anchorage Soil and Water Conservation District. All those agencies have said they will provide technical help.
Eklutna River likely would never support salmon runs as robust as those at Ship Creek, said Lance Trasky, a regional supervisor with the state Fish and Game Department's Habitat Division. But if the river's habitat is improved, the river could provide a modest, healthy fishery, he said.
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