EPA approves impaired status

Kenai River added to list; new regulations should remedy problem

Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Environmental Protection Agency approved Alaska’s addition of the lower Kenai River to its List of Impaired Waters Wednesday. Due to an increased level of petroleum hydrocarbons, particularly in the month of July, the river now is listed as a Category 5 impaired water body.

“For the Kenai River, every July for a number of years there have been exceedences of petroleum hydrocarbons,” said Lynn Kent, director for the Division of Water at the Department of Environmental Conservation. “So our proposed listing was limited to the lower part of the river during the month of July.”

Kent said under the Clean Water Act, the state of Alaska is required to list its impaired water bodies every two years. This is the first time the Kenai River has been on that list, Kent said, but monitoring data over the last five to seven years has shown that hydrocarbon levels have increased beyond the state’s standard of 10 parts per billion for the month of July.

Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, said his agency started monitoring the river in 1999 when it realized nobody was checking the level of pollutants in the water. After testing nutrient and metals levels, the watershed forum discovered that gasoline was the main issue for the river.

“The thing that caused us to reach impaired status is the fuel,” he said. “Gasoline was one of the largest pollutants we were measuring in the river and only in the month of July.”

Ruffner said water samples taken on Mondays, a day when the river is open only to drift boats and closed to motorized use, have shown hydrocarbon levels within state standards — even during July.

Even though hydrocarbon levels are within state standards for most of the year, there still is cause for concern — and the impaired listing.

“At any given point, at any given time (hydrocarbons) cannot exceed the state water quality standards,” he said.

Under the Clean Water Act, in order for the river’s status to be reduced to a category four, Kent said, the state had to come up with an effective plan for decreasing the hydrocarbon levels. Kent said new regulations adopted June 5 by the Department of Natural Resources that would limit engines on the river to cleaner burning four-strokes or direct fuel-injected two-strokes should meet that requirement.

“There’s not a regulatory time frame associated with the water body listing,” Kent said, “DNR’s (regulations) will begin to take effect not this summer but the following summer.”

Because studies were able to pinpoint the exact cause of the increased hydrocarbon levels, Ruffner is also confident the new regulations would take the Kenai River off the impaired waters list.

“Our goal is to make it so we’re not putting several hundred gallons of gas in the river on a busy day in July,” he said, “and I think we will accomplish that.”

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

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