Grants help protect watersheds

Posted: Monday, July 22, 2002

Three area groups have received more than $200,000 in grants through the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's Alaska's Clean Water Actions program. The grants are being used in a variety of ways this summer, from restoring stream bank along the Kenai River to monitoring the health of various area watersheds.

The grants were awarded last month. In total, the DEC awarded just under $1 million in grants to local governments and community organizations around the state. Funding for the grants came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Area agencies awarded grants were the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District, the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Youth Restoration Corps.

The Kenai Watershed Forum is using its grant to continue and expand an existing water quality monitoring program on the river, according to its director, Robert Ruffner. Ruffner said the money will enable the forum to determine contaminant levels and ascertain how long they remain in the river.

"Specifically we want to know how long hydrocarbons are present in the river and at what levels," he said.

The forum program involves testing water quality at five sites throughout the river. This is the third year it has received a grant to study the river. However, in previous years, only $45,000 was allocated to the project. This year, the forum received $66,000. Ruffner said the extra money should help his organization get a better picture of contamination in the Kenai River.

"We'll be able to test (for contamination) at more times throughout the summer," he said.

A similar grant was awarded to the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District. The district was given $130,000 to monitor water quality in several southern peninsula streams in order to better understand how threatened the streams are. The project will enable the district to continue to collect data from the Ninilchik River, Stariski Creek, the Anchor River and Deep Creek, according to district director Shirley Schollenberg.

"This is the fourth year we've received funding. We'll just continue to do what we've been doing," she said.

What the district has been doing is monitoring water conditions on the south peninsula streams. Schollenberg said in the three years since the monitoring project has been up and running, they've been able to gather crucial data about the health of the streams. She said one notable finding of the project has been elevated phosphorous levels in the streams. She said the district doesn't yet know what is causing the elevated levels, but she said the district will continue to watch the numbers.

Another area of concern the grant will allow the district to examine will be water temperature. Schollenberg said water temperatures in July have been observed in the past at noticeably high levels, which could pose a risk to juvenile salmon. The Clean Water Actions grant will allow the project to further monitor the temperatures this month to more accurately gauge the extent of the warming.

The other grant monies awarded Monday to a peninsula agency went to the Kenai Peninsula Youth Restoration Corps. The corps uses area youth to restore damaged and threatened stream bank along the Kenai River. Last year, the YRC restored more than 1,200 feet of riverbank, according to director Kelly Wolf.

This year, the YRC is increasing its coverage. Wolf said his organization uses the money not only to restore stream bank, but also to create a database of potential restoration sites. Such a database will make it easier to review and prioritize potential sites in need of future rehabilitation.

"This is a grant we receive for youth wages and other related needs.

For the 2003 program part of the work plan of that grant is to develop a database of projects on and off the Kenai River system. The state has spent millions and millions on the Kenai and ignored other areas," Wolf said.

All the programs awarded grant monies by the DEC currently are at the height of their work. Most of the money is expected to be used by the end of the summer, and any data gathered will be analyzed during the fall and winter.

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