Groups combine efforts to keep eye on quality of river

Partnership will monitor water

Posted: Monday, July 17, 2000

Public and private groups have joined forces to monitor the health of the Kenai River.

The city of Soldotna and The Nature Conservancy of Alaska announced Wednesday they are partnering with the the city of Kenai, the Kenai Watershed Forum and state and federal agencies to study the river's water quality over the long term. The goal is to accumulate baseline information so people can head off potential problems.

According to a statement released by the city of Soldotna, past studies by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Trout Unlimited were used as models for this one, said Michelle Brown, Kenai River programs manager for the Conservancy.

"The difference," she said, "is this study will be used as a baseline for continuous future monitoring to determine the health of the river as the surrounding population grows. Despite what some people may think, this is not being done for regulatory purposes or to attempt to cite people for pollution. It's to provide a baseline so we can see trends and red flags, and we'll know where problems may arise before they do."

Rick Wood, head of the Soldotna wastewater treatment plant, volunteered his time to train personnel from a number of organizations to perform the actual sampling.

Sampling will be done at 20 selected sites from the mouth of the river to Kenai Lake. The first samples will be collected Tuesday.

The wastewater treatment plant and Northern Testing Laboratories Inc. will test the samples for oils from parking lot runoff, metals from street and shop runoff, petroleum products, lead, sewage and other pollutants. They also will test for oxygen and acidity, factors that directly effect fish health.

Brown stressed that the conservation groups will not test the samples themselves and that funding goes directly to pay the laboratory fees.

The project is unrelated to the $1 million grant the conservancy recently received to inventory land resources. It also is separate from the Kenai Watershed Forum volunteer project monitoring creeks and from the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment program project now under way in the Cook Inlet watershed. Results from all the projects will be compared later, Brown said.

The city of Soldotna is donating its services, Soldotna Mayor Ken Lancaster said.

"I believe this is important enough to the future of the river that we couldn't afford not to provide these services," he said.

The Kenai Watershed Forum won an $80,000 grant from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and will use part of the money to pay for the work from Northern Testing Laboratories.

The other agencies involved are the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska State Parks and U.S. Forest Service.

The agencies contributed personnel and support services to allow staff to take part in the project. The value of the in-kind contributions totals more than $20,000, Brown said.

"I don't know of any other project where all the land management agencies are donating a person," she said.

Lancaster praised the community cooperation and the efforts of the Conservancy's Kenai office in pulling it together.

"Michelle has done an awful lot of the work," he said.

Brown said a series of meetings, beginning in the winter of 1999, identified long-term, consistent monitoring as a priority. She worked with the Kenai River Special Management Area board to set up a way to accomplish that. Funding was an obstacle.

"The city of Soldotna stepped forward," she said.

Samples taken this month will be compared with a second set, due to be collected in April. Organizers will then review the first year's results and plan how to conduct subsequent year's sampling, she said.

"In the spring, I am going to write a final report and make it available to the public," Brown said.

Complete data sets will be available on the Internet via the Kenai Watershed Forum and Kenai River Center sites.

Lancaster said he hopes the monitoring can be expanded in the future to include the tributaries, especially the Moose River and Slikok and Soldotna creeks. It is essential to watch the health of the entire Kenai watershed and all the other Kenai Peninsula waterways as well.

"That is the big picture," he said.

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