River needs management plan, and it must be enforced

Posted: Monday, November 05, 2007

Almost everyone agrees the health (water, sediments, contiguous habitats) of the Kenai River is vital to the economy of the region. Thousands of Alaskans and nonresidents are attracted to the river annually by its salmon runs and world class rainbow trout.

However, the lower river is already listed as impaired by Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for hydrocarbon (HC) pollution in summer. This may be further complicated as the lower river water is also exceeding allowable turbidity standards.

The entire river's health is subject to further deterioration because of fractionated management. The Kenai Peninsula Borough, cities of Soldotna and Kenai, Corps of Engineers, ADEC, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Department of Fish and Game and Federal Subsistence Board all share some responsibility for care of the river and its contiguous habitats. As a result, nobody is in charge and nobody is responsible. Superimposed on this fractionated management is the Alaska Board of Fish, which is responsible for allocation of the river's fish and means to harvest them.

A fundamental problem exists in this management model. While the above agencies and entities consult with each other, and the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board, on issues affecting the river's health and its fisheries, only the governor and/or Legislature has the power to require a comprehensive plan with a single manager to manage the river and its contiguous habitats. Such a plan or manager does not exist.

All river property owners, developers and users will tell you: "I want what's best for the river as long as I get what I want."

Annual monitoring of the river water column for HCs became continuous in 2000. Turbidity was mentioned in the 2005 Boat Wake Study, and more definitive data regarding this problem was obtained this summer.

What if heavy HCs contaminate the river's turbid sediments? What if owners, developers and users are tacitly allowed to continue to destroy more of the riverbanks, contiguous flood plains and wetlands (habitats) as they are now doing?

Finally, how many of you are catching fewer and/or smaller fish than in the past? Nobody knows why. But there are many suspicions certain HCs are toxic to young salmon, including eggs in spawning beds. And, as the concentrations of these HCs increase, the impacts on the fishery increase. Water/sediment toxicity (turbidity), coupled with increased loss of river habitat, can only make the river's health worse.

To assure the health far into the future, first there must be agreement among all pertinent agencies and entities on what the management plan and priorities are: 1) The river's water quality and its habitats; 2) The river's fisheries; and 3) the river's users (developers, land owners, guides, fishers and recreationists).

Second, there must be enforcement of these priorities by coordinated management of the Kenai River, with someone in charge and responsible, which is not happening now.

Status quo for care of our river should not be acceptable to anyone who lives in this community.

Richard Hahn


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