2008 hydrocarbon levels studies pending

Posted: Friday, August 01, 2008

Results won't be back until later this month, but after a summer of monitoring the Kenai River king salmon fishery in the first year of the conventional two-stroke motor ban for the month of July, Robert Ruffner and Tim Stevens are fairly certain hydrocarbons on the river will not exceed the state water quality standard of 10 parts per billion.

After observing the king salmon fishery within the Kenai River Special Management Area and the personal-use dipnet fishery below the Warren Ames Bridge, Ruffner, director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, said he and his staff saw 99 percent compliance with the two-stroke ban within the KRSMA area and 95 percent compliance with the ban within the personal-use fishery.

"Given that we saw a very high level of compliance, we fully expect the river should be below the standard, which will be a dramatic downturn from last year," he said.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation contracted the watershed forum and Anchorage consulting and engineering firm Oasis Environmental Inc. to monitor the Kenai during the king salmon fishery, said Stevens, DEC environmental program specialist for Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska.

Oasis sampled two locations within the KRSMA area at river Miles 10.1 and 5, he said. Ruffner and the watershed forum took river Mile 1.5 and did aerial surveys to count the number of boats on the river.

The watershed forum monitored the river July 19, 20 and 22, during the peak of the season. Ruffner said the watershed forum and Oasis took shallow and deep water samples on the right and left bank of the river. The watershed forum also took measurements at areas with unusual activity, such as someone working on a motor or an area with a high density of boats.

"We might have taken one or two that were out of the ordinary just to help paint a more complete picture of what might be going on out there," he said.

The watershed forum counted 720 boats on the river during the peak of the king salmon season last year. This year Ruffner said his staff counted a little over 600 boats in the KRSMA area. In the personal-use dipnet fishery last year, the watershed forum counted 250 boats and this year it was 200, he said.

"I know the regulation was a hardship on a number of people," Ruffner said. "A lot of people have talked in public meetings and with me personally about the difficulty of having to go out and buy an expensive motor, but I'm pretty sure it was a necessary step if we want to achieve high water-quality standards."

Stevens said the department started seeing problems as early as 2000. In 2004 the department made a presentation to the KRSMA advisory board, stating its concerns about the Kenai River water quality. After determining what the source of the hydrocarbons were, the DEC and the KRSMA board asked the Department of Natural Resources to ban two-stroke motors on the river. The Alaska Board of Fisheries followed suit with a similar regulation, he said.

Turbidity in the river recently became an issue, as well. Stevens said DEC contracted the watershed forum to monitor turbidity levels on the river in order to establish natural conditions on the river and find out under what conditions turbidity is increasing.

"Because there's no fishing from motorboats on Mondays, we're looking at that as a possible natural condition," he said. "The dipnet fishery is still open (on Mondays), but since that's in a tidal area it's hard to find a natural condition there."

Ruffner said when there are 500 to 600 boats operating on the river he knows the turbidity level increases. Previous studies conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have established the importance of near-shore habitat, where slow moving water allows juvenile salmon time to rest, he said.

"If that water is getting inundated with sediment and turbidity, there may be a concern there," he said.

Ruffner expects the results of the hydrocarbon data within the next two weeks. Even though many fishermen were concerned about the difficulty the two-stroke ban would place on them and their families, Ruffner said many people he spoke with on the river are happy with the change.

"The engines are using 20 percent less fuel, they're quieter, and they don't have the exhaust fumes," he said. "From that aspect, lots of people who have upgraded are happy they did that."

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

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