Boats get 50 horses

Kenai River to start new hydrocarbon regulations

Posted: Wednesday, June 06, 2007


  Paul Wilson secures his motor Tuesday afternoon at The Pillars State Recreation Area after fishing for king salmon on the Kenai River. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Paul Wilson secures his motor Tuesday afternoon at The Pillars State Recreation Area after fishing for king salmon on the Kenai River.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

You may be out of gas next year if you plan to chase kings up and down the Kenai River using a two-stroke engine. Under new regulations designed to reduce hydrocarbon pollution in the river, boaters must switch to four-stroke or direct fuel injected two-stroke engines beginning Jan. 1.

The new Department of Natural Resources regulations also will allow boaters to increase their horsepower to 50, enabling them to get to their fishing spot faster.

“The Kenai River has been limited to 35 horsepower since 1985,” said Chris Degernes, chief of field operations for the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. “If people are planning to use an engine larger than 35 horsepower, they need the cleaner burning technology.”

This decision comes after water quality testing along in the Kenai River Special Management Area —— which includes Kenai and Skilak lakes and extends along the river to Mile 4 —— found hydrocarbon levels were greater than the state limit of 10 parts per billion. Degernes said the increase in boaters’ speeds will result in less wake and thereby reduce erosion along the riverbank.

Although scientists were unable to pinpoint the cause of the high pollution levels at first, Degernes said a 2003 study showed hydrocarbon levels on the river were at their highest in July.

“(Pollution is) largely coming from these older inefficient two-stroke motors,” said Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, one of the agencies that conducted water quality testing in the river.

Ruffner said approximately 20 to 30 percent of the gasoline people put into their two-stroke engines winds up in the river itself. Put 150 to 200 such engines on the river and you’ve got several hundred gallons of raw gasoline pouring out of exhaust pipes and into the water.

“Putting two to three hundred gallons of gas in the river isn’t good for anybody,” he said. “We’re certain that it’s not good for anyone to have exposure to measurable concentrations of gasoline.”

Ruffner said studies have shown that Kenai River salmon don’t retain the toxins when they return from the ocean, but he is concerned with resident fish including trout and Dolly Varden.

“We don’t expect fish to go belly up,” he said, “But if we looked at this and studied it and spent a lot of money on it, we would find some adverse effects.”

These new regulations have also sparked heated debate among members of the public about the affordability of the new cleaner-burning engines. Degernes said those with a 35 horsepower engine or less will be able to use their two-stroke engines every month except July until 2010.

“We know that people will be affected,” she said. “We’re giving them a couple of years to use their motors and work on replacing them.”

For people living in the Kenai area, replacing their older engines might be easier than they think. Robert Ruffner said the Kenaitze Indian Tribe will give people $500 towards an engine in exchange for their old one.

“This is the second and final year that we will do this,” he said. “If someone has an older two-stroke that’s going to be fazed out when this regulation goes into effect, they can give us a call.”

Ricky Gease, executive director for the Kenai River Sport Fishing Association, said his organization supports the effort to bring cleaner technology to the river and will look for ways to assist people in making the transition from two-stroke to four-stroke engines.

“The regulations are a good first step in getting the older more polluting technology off the Kenai River and moving us toward a cleaner technology,” he said.

Despite Gease’s satisfaction with the new regulations, Ruffner said he noticed some weaknesses in the regulations. His first disappointment is that the regulations pertain only to the portion of the river above the Warren Ames Bridge.

“We still have everything below the bridge where these motors could go and that would be a detriment,” he said.

Ruffner also questions the assertion that allowing boaters to increase their speed is beneficial to the river by reducing erosion along the riverbanks.

Gease said most of the boats on the river right now are at 50 horsepower and they had to use a de-tuning device to reduce their speed.

“The majority of (boaters) can remove their de-tuning kit to comply with new regulations on Jan. 1,” he said.

To Ruffner increasing the horsepower decreases the level of safety on the river.

“I don’t know why people want more horsepower,” he said. “That’s like saying if I can drive 85 miles an hour, I’d be on the road less so I’d have less of a chance of hitting a moose.”

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at

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