Trees, root wads, dirt and chunks of peat moss, up to eight feet in length, flushed into the Kenai River Monday morning after water from Torpedo Lake washed out a creek separating the lake from the river.
At about 2 p.m. Monday, the National Weather Service reported Torpedo Lake, which is approximately four miles downstream of Skilak Lake, was quickly draining and washing large quantities of debris into the Kenai River.
John Mohorchich, Kenai River Center Manager with the borough, said he learned about the washout when he received a phone call from Dave Bunnell, who lives in the Kenai Keys subdivision, a residential area just downstream of Torpedo Lake.
“He was the first guy to call me and say, ‘Hey John we got something going on, we got trees coming down the river, the river’s turning dark chocolate mud,’” Mohorchich said. “And I said, ‘What are you thinking Dave? Are you thinking something man made? There’s nothing above you.’ He said ‘Oh no, this is a big deal, something natural has happened.’ And he actually nailed it, he said ‘I think Torpedo let loose.’”
Bunnell said he noticed the debris floating downstream at 10 a.m. Monday morning.
“I saw the river dark chocolate brown, I mean like chocolate syrup, a lot of chunks of peat, a lot of small trees, stumps and brush, and root systems,” he said.
He said the large chunks of peat moss he saw floating downstream tipped him off on the debris’ origin. Because peat moss does not grow along the Kenai River’s banks, he said the water had to have washed debris down from a water source above the river, such as Torpedo Lake.
Bunnell said he estimated Torpedo Lake is approximately 50 feet higher than the river and approximately a quarter mile from the north bank of the river.
Before the wash out, the creek connecting the lake to the river was narrow enough to step across, but when Bunnell traveled to the mouth of the creek on Monday in his neighbor’s boat it had widened considerably.
“It just absolutely scoured out,” he said. “It just made like a 50-foot wide gully to the river.”
The mouth of the creek enters the north side of the Kenai River, just below the Thompson’s fishing hole.
Staff at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Alaska Division of State Parks and the Kenai Wildlife Refuge could not say whether there had been a beaver dam or some other structure at the lake that may have given way and allowed the lake’s water to gush out into the Kenai River. Officials had not visited Torpedo Lake on Monday, but Fish and Game and refuge staff reportedly planned to visit the lake Tuesday.
Water levels on the Kenai River below Thompson’s fishing hole rose slightly Monday, but the weather service reported the river had not reached flood levels.
However, because the tremendous amount of debris that washed into the river could damage docks and boats, the weather service recommended residents downstream of Torpedo Lake remove them and cautioned boaters to watch for floating debris.
Patrice Kohl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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