Culvert, water main get attention: Project will improve habitat for salmon

Posted: Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Kenai Watershed Forum took the first steps toward removing an old culvert on Fourth Avenue this last Thursday.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Ben Vansandt of Foster Construction gives instructions to a backhoe operator Tuesday afternoon while installing a fire hydrant alongside North Spruce Street in Kenai. The waterline work is in conjunction with a culvert replacement project on Fourth Avenue for No Name Creek.

Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director Robert Ruffner said that the elevation of the current culvert impedes salmon from swimming to the wetlands upstream. The project aims to replace the four-foot diameter culvert with a wider pipe that decreases the flow speed, said Ruffner. Project Engineer Bill Nelson said that the eight-foot-wide replacement culvert will replicate the natural streambed.

"It's more natural instead of a raw steel conduit," Nelson said.

Low-functioning culverts can prevent salmon from traveling upstream to breeding grounds and fragment habitats for younger fish, called juveniles or fry.

According to the engineer, his Kenai-based firm will install the pipe 1.4 feet deep in the streambed to provide a wider area for the water to pass through and eliminate the steep inclines that trap juvenile salmon.

Ruffner said that the approximately $400,000 project will open a couple miles of stream and a wetland habitat to the salmon. Although it's mainly populated by coho salmon, the director said that a few kings and sockeye have been spotted there as well. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Ginny Litchfield said that coho salmon use the wetlands during the spring.

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said that the project will raise a water main located beneath the project. Koch said that the main's current location hinders maintenance.

"A 17-foot excavation is a huge hole," the city manager said.

Nelson said that his engineering firm also plans to install an eight-foot deep water basin to catch silt and road run-off. Particles will settle into the four-foot wide basin and sit until sucked out, the civic engineer said. Currently the storm drain system has an untreated outlet, which sends unfiltered water directly into the creek.

The KWF received over $1 million in grant money from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to replace four culverts, including the pipe on Fourth Avenue.

The forum plans to evaluate the changes in wildlife within the river after the installation as well. Ruffner said that his group will monitor the number and type of insects, juvenile salmon's primary food source, after the culvert goes in.

He isn't the only forum staff member to investigate the stream though.

KWF education specialist Dan Pascucci runs classes for grade schoolers down to study the creek's habitat as part of the group's Adopt-A-Stream program. Pascucci said that his students test the turbidity, water temperature and acidity of the orange tinted stream, which has low numbers of insects.

"When you see it you say, 'Man, there's got to be something wrong with that water,'" he said.

However all his data shows that the unique habitat has healthy water.

"On one side of the road is marshy wetlands," he said, "and on the other is a flowing stream."

Tony Cella can be reached at

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