Monthly Archives: January 2009

Ready for Redoubt? — Central Peninsula prepares for possible eruption

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Pilots, especially, remember the story from Mount Redoubt’s last eruption in December 1989.

A KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747, with 231 passengers aboard, flew into an ash cloud spewed from Mount Redoubt at 27,900 feet. The tiny, abrasive ash particles choked the engines and all four quit, leaving the plane in a freefall two miles down.

The pilot was able to restart the engines and landed safely in Anchorage. The situation turned out for the best, but makes pilots remember to be prepared for the worst. That’s why if Redoubt erupts again — as the Alaska Volcano Observatory says it could at any time — they’ll be keeping a close eye on the ash, and keeping their planes on the ground if it comes too close.

Bob Widman, a senior pilot with Missionary Aviation Repair Center in Soldotna, said he remembers hearing about the KLM flight during Redoubt’s last eruption, while he waited out the ash fall on the ground.

“I remember it was just like having a dark black cloud come over the place, and cinders were falling. We basically couldn’t fly, the abrasion from the ash would be too great for the airplane,” Widman, of Soldotna, said.

The story was on his mind when Mount Augustine erupted in 2006, as well. He was flying back to the peninsula at night by the north side of Mount Iliamna, when flight services hailed him and said, “Do you realize that Augustine just erupted?” he said.

“Now, with the technology you’ve got with GPS, it showed wind out of the northwest, which was comforting, but it was dark out and we were looking around to make sure you can still see stars. If you flew through an ash cloud it looks just like a regular cloud. We turned the (engine) auto ignition on in case you went through anything, which is probably not much preventative medicine,” Widman said.

“So we wouldn’t fly unless the cloud was drifting a certain way. We certainly wouldn’t try to go anywhere near those because the dust you’re going to get, it’s probably going to damage a plane permanently. It’ll take the paint off it and if it gets into the engine compartment it could snuff out the engine,” he said.

Flying during ash fallout from a volcanic eruption can have deadly consequences. But even people safely on the ground can be significantly impacted by it. That’s why the central peninsula is getting ready in case Mount Redoubt erupts again.

Increased seismic activity led volcano observatory scientists to upgrade Redoubt’s color code to orange Sunday, meaning an eruption could be imminent. Seismic activity simmered down somewhat Monday, but code orange was maintained.

A heightened level of preparedness is being maintained, as well. Scott Walden, coordinator of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, said OEM is in contact with the AVO, the Alaska branch of the National Weather Service and Homeland Security 24 hours a day while an eruption appears imminent.

“They not only give us current conditions, they also provide immediate modeling on weather to give me a good idea on ash fall, not only the thickness and density but the direction of travel,” Walden said.

If an eruption occurs and ash heads this way, the emergency alert system and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radio alerts will be activated, AVO will issue informational updates and OEM will distribute information to local media sources, governments, police and fire departments, 911 dispatchers and the school district.

If it becomes necessary, OEM will set up a recorded phone line that’s updated with information throughout the day, and the emergency center will be staffed to answer calls, if need be.

But Walden points people to the Internet as the main source of information. AVO posts updates on volcanic activity at http://www.avo.alaska.edu. OEM’s Web site, http://www.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency, also posts volcano updates, and has a wealth of information on how people can prepare for an eruption, including checklists of supplies, and what to do during and after an eruption.

Walden’s biggest advice is to stay inside and off the roads.

“Back in ’89, what we experienced in the fire department in Kenai was some concern about health, with the elderly and people with respiratory illnesses, and higher occurrences of car accidents because when ash started landing on ice and snow it got very slippery.”

Not only is ash slick, it’s damaging to engines.

“It’s like pouring a small quantity of sand in your engine intake. The less travel, the better chance of your vehicle lasting. It’s very abrasive.”

Ash can also add significant weight per square foot. If enough accumulates — especially on top of snowpack — it’s recommended to clear it off roofs or other structures that could be damaged by weight.

If people do have to go outside, wear a mask, Walden said. But it’s better to remain indoors if ash fall occurs.

“Just having those little safety kits at home with appropriate quantities of medicine, food and water for three to seven days, and don’t forget the pets,” Walden said.

Following is further information in the event of an eruption and ash fall:

Residents
  • Visit http://www.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency for updates on current conditions and information on emergency preparedness and sheltering in place.
  • Stock up on vital supplies. Have enough food, water and necessary medication for everyone in your household — including pets — to last three to seven days. And think ahead. Some supplies may not be available in the event of heavy, continual ash fall, as some shipping services may be disrupted. Becky Dragseth, a dispatcher for Carlile Transportation in Kenai, said trucks will roll up to a certain point, but they’ll be parked if ash gets too thick — which means groceries and other supplies may not show up as scheduled.
  • Stay inside. Vehicles can be damaged by volcanic ash, and roads can become slippery. Breathing ash can cause respiratory problems.
  • If you must go out, wear a mask.
Parents
  • Check the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Web site, http://www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us, for information on whether bus or school schedules will be affected by ash. Also, listen to the radio for updates.
  • Don’t let kids play outside during ash fall. Have inside activities ready to keep them occupied.
Travelers
  • If you’re driving, don’t. Ash will damage engines and leave roads slippery. If you absolutely must drive (but it’s really not recommended), drive slowly, allowing extra stopping distance, and stock up on extra filters for your vehicle.
  • Plane passengers should check with their airline to see if their flights will be affected by an eruption. As long as ash doesn’t blow toward flight routes, planes can still fly. For Era passengers, call the Kenai station at 283-3322, or 1-800-866-8394. For Grant Aviation, call the Kenai station at 283-6012, or 1-888-359-4726. If flights are canceled due to ash, both airlines will honor tickets for up to a year.

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Low impact sparks high debate — Cooper Landing residents voice concern over hydro projects


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Impact. That one word spurred on four hours of contention in a meeting Jan. 21 between Cooper Landing residents and representatives from Homer Electric Association and its associates that want to build four hydroelectric projects in the Cooper Landing region.

HEA representatives say the projects will be designed to be low-impact, meaning care will be taken to prevent substantive harm to the environment, fish and recreation. And they would be beneficial to HEA consumers, who are struggling with electric bills that rise along with natural gas prices.

Cooper Landing residents, however, classify building roads, tunnels and dams, changing lake levels, disturbing vegetation, altering natural water flows and drying up sections of salmon-spawning creeks as high impacts, especially when residents don’t stand to directly gain anything from the projects.

Brad Zubeck, project engineer with HEA, gave an overview of the projects in the Jan. 21 meeting at Cooper Landing’s Community Hall and explained why the energy co-op is pursuing them. Kenai Hydro has preliminary, three-year permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency and a $50,000 grant for each project from the Alaska Energy Authority to study the feasibility of four hydro projects in the Trail Lakes area near Moose Pass — on Crescent Lake, Ptarmigan Lake, Falls Creek and Grant Lake.

Kenai Hydro was formed as a partnership between HEA and Wind Energy Alaska, which in turn is a partnership between Cook Inlet Region Inc. and enXco, a renewable energy firm. Kenai Hydro has contracted with HDR Alaska to do engineering and environmental study work for the projects, as well as Long View Associates to assist with the regulatory process.

Zubeck told the packed room of more than 50 attendees that HEA needs to find new sources of energy. Its current contract with Chugach Electric Association expires 2013, and HEA hopes to add 70 megawatts of new power generation at that point. As it stands now, about 90 percent of HEA’s power comes from natural gas-fired turbines. Rising gas prices have led HEA members’ rates to nearly double in the last year alone. Wind and hydro power plants, once built, would provide low-cost energy to stabilize rates and lessen dependency on natural gas, Zubeck said. The proposed hydro projects could supply 10 percent of HEA’s future needs, he said.

“The renewables will be one piece of that puzzle,” he said. “… The projects are not going to answer our challenge, but we think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Cooper Landing residents wanted to know why HEA is stepping in their direction at all, since power for Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and beyond is supplied by Chugach, so any rate decreases HEA members may see wouldn’t affect those living near the hydro projects.

Because that’s where the resource is, Zubeck said. The projects are promising, prior research has already been done on them and they’re close to transition lines, which helps make them affordable. The waterways are a state resource, which HEA is entitled to try and use, Zubeck said.

“We need to provide for ourselves. These are on the scale we can accomplish and meet the needs we have in the time frame we’re faced with,” Zubeck said.

“This is also a high-impact area for all the people who live here,” said Ken Green, of Cooper Landing.

Todd Bethard, an engineer with HDR Alaska, explained the project concepts as they stand so far (see related story). They entail a laundry list of elements that residents were skeptical of, if not adamantly opposed to, such as building roads, tunnels and dams, changing lake levels, altering natural creek flows and altogether drying up sections of streams that support spawning salmon.

“How do you have the audacity to tell me it’s low-impact when you’re talking about roads and tunnels? That’s major rape, pillage, plunder, slash and burn. Don’t try to tell me that’s low impact. You’ve got a lot of convincing to convince me of low impact,” said Phil Webber, of Cooper Landing.

Some projects drew more fire than others. A 1.5-mile long tunnel proposed for Ptarmigan Lake and creek, which supports productive fish habitat, generated several questions and comments about whether the 3 MW capacity the project is expected to generate is worth the construction costs and environmental upheaval the project would entail.

Zubeck conceded that he was skeptical the tunnel plan would proceed once HDR comes back with cost estimates.

“We’re looking at it. That’s all were doing now. That’s the stage we’re at,” he said. “…Honestly, I don’t think that Homer’s going to pursue this. We’re not trying to force this project, we’re just working with these concepts here.”

Crescent Lake was the other main sore spot with residents.

“You’re going to ruin some of the best fishing there is. I guarantee it. The best fishing is right under the outlet of Crescent Lake,” Webber said, about a plan to replace the footbridge across Crescent Creek at the outlet of the lake, in prime arctic grayling territory, with a concrete structure that would control water release into the creek and allow fish passage.

Zubeck assured the audience that they would protect grayling habitat and that HDR will conduct environmental studies on fish usage in Crescent and all the streams involved in the projects to determine what it needs to do to protect fish and wildlife in the areas.

“What they need, they’ll get. What they don’t need would go to power generation,” he said.

Audience members voiced skepticism that environmental studies would generate enough data to ensure the hydro projects wouldn’t inflict harm. Especially concerning were complex issues like whether water temperatures would increase after water is diverted through turbines, and what effect that may have on the ecosystem; and how disturbing natural water flows by drying up sections of creeks and eliminating natural flood events might impact everything from microorganisms and vegetation on up to fish.

“I have serious doubts that you’re going to be able to do that, and I don’t know. You’re going to have to convince me and everyone here that you can do that,” said John Thorne, of Cooper Landing.

“It’s not an easy job, I won’t kid you,” said Paul McLarnon, a biologist with HDR who is planning on conducting environmental research on the projects this summer.

Thorne wanted to know if there’s a predetermined amount of losses to fish and habitat that HEA and regulators would find acceptable.

“We don’t have a number,” McLarnon said. “We would provide that information to the regulatory agencies and work with them on that” — meaning FERC and the slate of state agencies that have a hand in approving permits will look at HDR’s research and engineering plans and determine if the likely effects and risks from the projects are acceptable, too great, or plausible with some plan modifications.

That being said, “It’s low-impact, it’s not no-impact. I’ve never worked on a project anywhere where there’s no impact,” McLarnon said.

Several audience members made it clear they opposed any impacts to the area, especially Crescent Lake.

“Right off the bat you’re going to get 10 percent (of HEA’s power needs) off these things, but the cost to the environment alone seems astronomical,” said John Belcik, of Cooper Landing. “For what you’re going to get off it, you’re looking at the most beautiful lake in the whole dag bern Alaska. We don’t need more people having access to it.”

Residents also voiced concerns about whether the regulatory and permit approval process was rigorous enough to adequately protect against environmental and recreational harms, especially since the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation doesn’t review hydro projects to make sure they comply with the Clean Water Act, essentially leaving the decisions up to people in Washington, D.C.

But representatives from various state agencies in the audience pointed out that FERC and Alaska DEC aren’t the only organizations from which Kenai Hydro needs approval. The Forest Service, Fish and Game and various other agencies also have a hand in process.

Jim Ferguson, statewide hydro-power coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, issued a bleak outlook for one element of HDR’s current plans.

“We’ve never authorized the dewatering of a creek, and I seriously doubt we would do that now,” he said. “We’ll certainly look at it, but I think that’s highly unlikely.”

Toward the end of the meeting, residents speculated on where the process would go. Thorne said he thought HEA was serious about two projects — Grant Lake and Falls Creek — and only included Crescent and Ptarmigan lakes because the effects from those seem so much more controversial that people would be relieved to just have Grant and Ptarmigan, by comparison.

Bob Baldwin, chair of the Friends of Cooper Landing, which filed formal opposition with FERC to Kenai Hydro’s preliminary permits, said everyone has a legal voice in the process.

“We are assuming this will not happen. The consultants here are working to see it happen. We will be working on the other side of this. … We are very strongly committed that Crescent Lake will not happen,” he said, to a round of applause.

Webber was less optimistic that the regulatory process would safeguard environmental concerns.

“I may look stupid, but I’m not dumb. You guys have made up your mind. You’re going to gather enough data and press on,” he said, accusing that the environmental study results would be used to make the projects look favorable. “Give me two pages and I can convince God that the sun rises in the east.”

Another public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. today, Jan. 28, at the Moose Pass Community Hall.

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Low impact sparks high debate — Cooper Landing residents voice concern over hydro projects


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Impact. That one word spurred on four hours of contention in a meeting Jan. 21 between Cooper Landing residents and representatives from Homer Electric Association and its associates that want to build four hydroelectric projects in the Cooper Landing region.

HEA representatives say the projects will be designed to be low-impact, meaning care will be taken to prevent substantive harm to the environment, fish and recreation. And they would be beneficial to HEA consumers, who are struggling with electric bills that rise along with natural gas prices.

Cooper Landing residents, however, classify building roads, tunnels and dams, changing lake levels, disturbing vegetation, altering natural water flows and drying up sections of salmon-spawning creeks as high impacts, especially when residents don’t stand to directly gain anything from the projects.

Brad Zubeck, project engineer with HEA, gave an overview of the projects in the Jan. 21 meeting at Cooper Landing’s Community Hall and explained why the energy co-op is pursuing them. Kenai Hydro has preliminary, three-year permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency and a $50,000 grant for each project from the Alaska Energy Authority to study the feasibility of four hydro projects in the Trail Lakes area near Moose Pass — on Crescent Lake, Ptarmigan Lake, Falls Creek and Grant Lake.

Kenai Hydro was formed as a partnership between HEA and Wind Energy Alaska, which in turn is a partnership between Cook Inlet Region Inc. and enXco, a renewable energy firm. Kenai Hydro has contracted with HDR Alaska to do engineering and environmental study work for the projects, as well as Long View Associates to assist with the regulatory process.

Zubeck told the packed room of more than 50 attendees that HEA needs to find new sources of energy. Its current contract with Chugach Electric Association expires 2013, and HEA hopes to add 70 megawatts of new power generation at that point. As it stands now, about 90 percent of HEA’s power comes from natural gas-fired turbines. Rising gas prices have led HEA members’ rates to nearly double in the last year alone. Wind and hydro power plants, once built, would provide low-cost energy to stabilize rates and lessen dependency on natural gas, Zubeck said. The proposed hydro projects could supply 10 percent of HEA’s future needs, he said.

“The renewables will be one piece of that puzzle,” he said. “… The projects are not going to answer our challenge, but we think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Cooper Landing residents wanted to know why HEA is stepping in their direction at all, since power for Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and beyond is supplied by Chugach, so any rate decreases HEA members may see wouldn’t affect those living near the hydro projects.

Because that’s where the resource is, Zubeck said. The projects are promising, prior research has already been done on them and they’re close to transition lines, which helps make them affordable. The waterways are a state resource, which HEA is entitled to try and use, Zubeck said.

“We need to provide for ourselves. These are on the scale we can accomplish and meet the needs we have in the time frame we’re faced with,” Zubeck said.

“This is also a high-impact area for all the people who live here,” said Ken Green, of Cooper Landing.

Todd Bethard, an engineer with HDR Alaska, explained the project concepts as they stand so far (see related story). They entail a laundry list of elements that residents were skeptical of, if not adamantly opposed to, such as building roads, tunnels and dams, changing lake levels, altering natural creek flows and altogether drying up sections of streams that support spawning salmon.

“How do you have the audacity to tell me it’s low-impact when you’re talking about roads and tunnels? That’s major rape, pillage, plunder, slash and burn. Don’t try to tell me that’s low impact. You’ve got a lot of convincing to convince me of low impact,” said Phil Webber, of Cooper Landing.

Some projects drew more fire than others. A 1.5-mile long tunnel proposed for Ptarmigan Lake and creek, which supports productive fish habitat, generated several questions and comments about whether the 3 MW capacity the project is expected to generate is worth the construction costs and environmental upheaval the project would entail.

Zubeck conceded that he was skeptical the tunnel plan would proceed once HDR comes back with cost estimates.

“We’re looking at it. That’s all were doing now. That’s the stage we’re at,” he said. “…Honestly, I don’t think that Homer’s going to pursue this. We’re not trying to force this project, we’re just working with these concepts here.”

Crescent Lake was the other main sore spot with residents.

“You’re going to ruin some of the best fishing there is. I guarantee it. The best fishing is right under the outlet of Crescent Lake,” Webber said, about a plan to replace the footbridge across Crescent Creek at the outlet of the lake, in prime arctic grayling territory, with a concrete structure that would control water release into the creek and allow fish passage.

Zubeck assured the audience that they would protect grayling habitat and that HDR will conduct environmental studies on fish usage in Crescent and all the streams involved in the projects to determine what it needs to do to protect fish and wildlife in the areas.

“What they need, they’ll get. What they don’t need would go to power generation,” he said.

Audience members voiced skepticism that environmental studies would generate enough data to ensure the hydro projects wouldn’t inflict harm. Especially concerning were complex issues like whether water temperatures would increase after water is diverted through turbines, and what effect that may have on the ecosystem; and how disturbing natural water flows by drying up sections of creeks and eliminating natural flood events might impact everything from microorganisms and vegetation on up to fish.

“I have serious doubts that you’re going to be able to do that, and I don’t know. You’re going to have to convince me and everyone here that you can do that,” said John Thorne, of Cooper Landing.

“It’s not an easy job, I won’t kid you,” said Paul McLarnon, a biologist with HDR who is planning on conducting environmental research on the projects this summer.

Thorne wanted to know if there’s a predetermined amount of losses to fish and habitat that HEA and regulators would find acceptable.

“We don’t have a number,” McLarnon said. “We would provide that information to the regulatory agencies and work with them on that” — meaning FERC and the slate of state agencies that have a hand in approving permits will look at HDR’s research and engineering plans and determine if the likely effects and risks from the projects are acceptable, too great, or plausible with some plan modifications.

That being said, “It’s low-impact, it’s not no-impact. I’ve never worked on a project anywhere where there’s no impact,” McLarnon said.

Several audience members made it clear they opposed any impacts to the area, especially Crescent Lake.

“Right off the bat you’re going to get 10 percent (of HEA’s power needs) off these things, but the cost to the environment alone seems astronomical,” said John Belcik, of Cooper Landing. “For what you
’re going to get off it, you’re looking at the most beautiful lake in the whole dag bern Alaska. We don’t need more people having access to it.”

Residents also voiced concerns about whether the regulatory and permit approval process was rigorous enough to adequately protect against environmental and recreational harms, especially since the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation doesn’t review hydro projects to make sure they comply with the Clean Water Act, essentially leaving the decisions up to people in Washington, D.C.

But representatives from various state agencies in the audience pointed out that FERC and Alaska DEC aren’t the only organizations from which Kenai Hydro needs approval. The Forest Service, Fish and Game and various other agencies also have a hand in process.

Jim Ferguson, statewide hydro-power coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, issued a bleak outlook for one element of HDR’s current plans.

“We’ve never authorized the dewatering of a creek, and I seriously doubt we would do that now,” he said. “We’ll certainly look at it, but I think that’s highly unlikely.”

Toward the end of the meeting, residents speculated on where the process would go. Thorne said he thought HEA was serious about two projects — Grant Lake and Falls Creek — and only included Crescent and Ptarmigan lakes because the effects from those seem so much more controversial that people would be relieved to just have Grant and Ptarmigan, by comparison.

Bob Baldwin, chair of the Friends of Cooper Landing, which filed formal opposition with FERC to Kenai Hydro’s preliminary permits, said everyone has a legal voice in the process.

“We are assuming this will not happen. The consultants here are working to see it happen. We will be working on the other side of this. … We are very strongly committed that Crescent Lake will not happen,” he said, to a round of applause.

Webber was less optimistic that the regulatory process would safeguard environmental concerns.

“I may look stupid, but I’m not dumb. You guys have made up your mind. You’re going to gather enough data and press on,” he said, accusing that the environmental study results would be used to make the projects look favorable. “Give me two pages and I can convince God that the sun rises in the east.”

Another public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. today, Jan. 28, at the Moose Pass Community Hall.

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HEA details early plans for hydro sites


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Kenai Hydro is in the preliminary stages of investigating the feasibility of four hydro projects near Moose Pass.

Todd Bethard, an engineer with HDR Alaska, explained the project concepts as they stand so far to a group of Cooper Landing residents Jan. 21. He said the projects are designed to limit visual impacts and harm to recreational and mining uses, fish and the environment.

Grant — Dam would make reservoir

Kenai Hydro is considering building a 9-foot-high concrete dam across the natural outlet of Grant Lake to use the lake for water storage, which would increase the project’s potential power output. The lake could hold 38,200 acre-feet of water, with the lake level rising 9 feet above and 25 feet below its natural elevation as water is stored and released. An aboveground steel pipe, called a penstock, would follow the topography of Grant Creek down to a powerhouse built at 530 feet elevation. An existing dirt mining road north of Falls Creek would be extended to allow access to the dam and powerhouse, and would avoid existing trails. Overhead transmission lines would connect the powerhouse to existing lines along the Seward Highway.

Estimated power capacity would be 4.7 megawatts. With the dam and water diverted through the penstock, the section of creek just below the lake outlet would be “dewatered,” Bethard said, and water would be returned to the creek after it ran through the turbines. Bethard said the lake supports some fish — stickleback and sculpin — but previous studies don’t show fish migration in the upper reaches of the creek. HDR plans to return water to the creek above where migratory salmon use it for spawning.

“So we’re looking at taking water from areas of the creek that don’t have fish in them,” Bethard said.

The project would be similar in concept to Chugach’s dam at Cooper Lake, which is blamed for destroying fish runs in Cooper Creek. Paul McLarnon, a biologist with HDR, said the difference is that water in Cooper Creek today actually comes from Stetson Creek, which is colder than Cooper Lake.

“The water out of Grant Lake is put it back into Grant Creek,” he said. “It’s the same water. There wouldn’t be a temperature difference there.”

Community members were concerned about the possible effects of removing and returning water to the creek, whether running the water through turbines would increase water temperature, and what effect that may have on fish.

“That’s something we definitely want to study. I don’t know that right now,” McLarnon said.

Falls — Water may go to Grant Lake

To the south of Grant Lake is Falls Creek, so named for a 100-foot waterfall and smaller falls. Previous studies in the 1980s concluded the large waterfall impedes fish passage in the upper reaches of the creek, although salmon use the lower reaches of Falls Creek.

The creek isn’t suitable for a dam and water storage, Bethard said, so HDR is considering two other options. A run-of-river intake structure would be built, probably at 800 feet of elevation, to divert water into a 40-inch diameter steel penstock. Run of river means water is diverted out of the creek with a structure built to the creek’s water level, rather than a dam higher than the water level storing up larger volumes of water behind it. The intake would include a sluiceway to release incremental water flows.

The penstock could divert water to a powerhouse built at 500 feet elevation with a rated capacity of 3.9 million kWh. Water would be returned to the creek below the powerhouse, with the section of the creek between the intake and water release being dewatered. Existing mining roads with additional short stubs could be upgraded to provide access. If this method is used, the powerhouse would be shut down November to April, Bethard said.

But the preferred idea is to take the water from Falls Creek over to Grant Lake and add to the water capacity there to increase the potential power output of that dam.

“If we can take water to Grant we do see a little more of a benefit. Diverting is the preferred alternative,” Bethard said.

That would could mean Falls Creek goes without water year-round, unless biological studies show some level of instream flow must occur to maintain fish habitat.

Ptarmigan – Tunnel would carry water

South of Falls Creek, the proposed Ptarmigan Lake project would include an intake structure at the outlet of the lake, a gatehouse and an outlet control structure that would control the amount of water released into the creek.

“Ptarmigan is a very productive system,” McLarnon said of the waterway’s fish usage.

Bethard said the project would maintain a certain amount of water release for fish.

It would also involve a 9-foot-diameter, tunnel just shy of 1.5 miles long to bring water to the powerhouse, which would be built at 550 feet elevation. A new, half-mile road near Kenai Lake would provide access to the powerhouse, which would be built across from Ptarmigan Campground. Another new, single-lane access road, this one two miles long, would be built from the powerhouse to the gatehouse. Bethard said tailings from the tunnel could be used for road construction, as aggregate for concrete, for the foundation of the powerhouse or possibly sold to the Alaska Department of Transportation.

The Ptarmigan project has a capacity of 3 MW, but power output would depend on how much water is left in the creek and how much is diverted through the powerhouse. HDR estimates 3.2 million annual kWh production if 34 percent of the water is used for power, 6.4 million kWh if 67 percent is used for power, and 9.7 million kWh if all the water goes to power, although that number is for modeling purposes and wouldn’t likely happen, Bethard said.

Crescent — Trench would follow trail

On Crescent Lake, the original plan was to bring a penstock down Crescent Creek Valley, but that was abandoned when a suitable intake site wasn’t found. The upper reaches of the creek are productive grayling habitat, and farther down is a steep canyon that presented engineering hurdles, Bethard said.

Now the plan is to replace the bridge over Crescent Creek at the lake outlet with a concrete bridge that would control water release into the creek and allow for fish passage, Bethard said. On the other end of the lake, a 7,750-foot tunnel or deep trench would be dug to install a 13,000-foot steel penstock that would take water from the east end of the lake past Carter Lake and down the mountainside to a powerhouse at 550 feet elevation. The trench would traverse the valley between Carter and Crescent Lakes along roughly the same route as a popular hiking trail.

Bethard said the tunnel or trench would be dug and penstock installed in the winter to minimize harm to the vegetation. Vegetation that’s dug up would be replaced and is expected to regrow, he said. The pipe would re-emerge near the outlet of Carter Lake and travel above ground down the mountainside to the powerhouse.

The existing Crescent Lake trail could be used to access the outlet flow structure on the west side of the lake. On the Carter Lake side, HDR would put in a new, single-lane, 2.5-mile road up past Carter Lake to access the intake structure on Crescent. Bethard said HDR considered just widening and using the existing trail, but the first part is probably too steep for that.

The Crescent Lake project has a rated capacity of 5.8 MW, but energy output would again depend on how much water is used. In its modeling, HDR figures 23.4 million kWh if no water is released through the creek, 16.1 million kWh if 33 percent of the water goes down the creek, and 8.8 million kWh if 66 percent of the water is released.

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HEA details early plans for hydro sites


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Kenai Hydro is in the preliminary stages of investigating the feasibility of four hydro projects near Moose Pass.

Todd Bethard, an engineer with HDR Alaska, explained the project concepts as they stand so far to a group of Cooper Landing residents Jan. 21. He said the projects are designed to limit visual impacts and harm to recreational and mining uses, fish and the environment.

Grant — Dam would make reservoir

Kenai Hydro is considering building a 9-foot-high concrete dam across the natural outlet of Grant Lake to use the lake for water storage, which would increase the project’s potential power output. The lake could hold 38,200 acre-feet of water, with the lake level rising 9 feet above and 25 feet below its natural elevation as water is stored and released. An aboveground steel pipe, called a penstock, would follow the topography of Grant Creek down to a powerhouse built at 530 feet elevation. An existing dirt mining road north of Falls Creek would be extended to allow access to the dam and powerhouse, and would avoid existing trails. Overhead transmission lines would connect the powerhouse to existing lines along the Seward Highway.

Estimated power capacity would be 4.7 megawatts. With the dam and water diverted through the penstock, the section of creek just below the lake outlet would be “dewatered,” Bethard said, and water would be returned to the creek after it ran through the turbines. Bethard said the lake supports some fish — stickleback and sculpin — but previous studies don’t show fish migration in the upper reaches of the creek. HDR plans to return water to the creek above where migratory salmon use it for spawning.

“So we’re looking at taking water from areas of the creek that don’t have fish in them,” Bethard said.

The project would be similar in concept to Chugach’s dam at Cooper Lake, which is blamed for destroying fish runs in Cooper Creek. Paul McLarnon, a biologist with HDR, said the difference is that water in Cooper Creek today actually comes from Stetson Creek, which is colder than Cooper Lake.

“The water out of Grant Lake is put it back into Grant Creek,” he said. “It’s the same water. There wouldn’t be a temperature difference there.”

Community members were concerned about the possible effects of removing and returning water to the creek, whether running the water through turbines would increase water temperature, and what effect that may have on fish.

“That’s something we definitely want to study. I don’t know that right now,” McLarnon said.

Falls — Water may go to Grant Lake

To the south of Grant Lake is Falls Creek, so named for a 100-foot waterfall and smaller falls. Previous studies in the 1980s concluded the large waterfall impedes fish passage in the upper reaches of the creek, although salmon use the lower reaches of Falls Creek.

The creek isn’t suitable for a dam and water storage, Bethard said, so HDR is considering two other options. A run-of-river intake structure would be built, probably at 800 feet of elevation, to divert water into a 40-inch diameter steel penstock. Run of river means water is diverted out of the creek with a structure built to the creek’s water level, rather than a dam higher than the water level storing up larger volumes of water behind it. The intake would include a sluiceway to release incremental water flows.

The penstock could divert water to a powerhouse built at 500 feet elevation with a rated capacity of 3.9 million kWh. Water would be returned to the creek below the powerhouse, with the section of the creek between the intake and water release being dewatered. Existing mining roads with additional short stubs could be upgraded to provide access. If this method is used, the powerhouse would be shut down November to April, Bethard said.

But the preferred idea is to take the water from Falls Creek over to Grant Lake and add to the water capacity there to increase the potential power output of that dam.

“If we can take water to Grant we do see a little more of a benefit. Diverting is the preferred alternative,” Bethard said.

That would could mean Falls Creek goes without water year-round, unless biological studies show some level of instream flow must occur to maintain fish habitat.

Ptarmigan – Tunnel would carry water

South of Falls Creek, the proposed Ptarmigan Lake project would include an intake structure at the outlet of the lake, a gatehouse and an outlet control structure that would control the amount of water released into the creek.

“Ptarmigan is a very productive system,” McLarnon said of the waterway’s fish usage.

Bethard said the project would maintain a certain amount of water release for fish.

It would also involve a 9-foot-diameter, tunnel just shy of 1.5 miles long to bring water to the powerhouse, which would be built at 550 feet elevation. A new, half-mile road near Kenai Lake would provide access to the powerhouse, which would be built across from Ptarmigan Campground. Another new, single-lane access road, this one two miles long, would be built from the powerhouse to the gatehouse. Bethard said tailings from the tunnel could be used for road construction, as aggregate for concrete, for the foundation of the powerhouse or possibly sold to the Alaska Department of Transportation.

The Ptarmigan project has a capacity of 3 MW, but power output would depend on how much water is left in the creek and how much is diverted through the powerhouse. HDR estimates 3.2 million annual kWh production if 34 percent of the water is used for power, 6.4 million kWh if 67 percent is used for power, and 9.7 million kWh if all the water goes to power, although that number is for modeling purposes and wouldn’t likely happen, Bethard said.

Crescent — Trench would follow trail

On Crescent Lake, the original plan was to bring a penstock down Crescent Creek Valley, but that was abandoned when a suitable intake site wasn’t found. The upper reaches of the creek are productive grayling habitat, and farther down is a steep canyon that presented engineering hurdles, Bethard said.

Now the plan is to replace the bridge over Crescent Creek at the lake outlet with a concrete bridge that would control water release into the creek and allow for fish passage, Bethard said. On the other end of the lake, a 7,750-foot tunnel or deep trench would be dug to install a 13,000-foot steel penstock that would take water from the east end of the lake past Carter Lake and down the mountainside to a powerhouse at 550 feet elevation. The trench would traverse the valley between Carter and Crescent Lakes along roughly the same route as a popular hiking trail.

Bethard said the tunnel or trench would be dug and penstock installed in the winter to minimize harm to the vegetation. Vegetation that’s dug up would be replaced and is expected to regrow, he said. The pipe would re-emerge near the outlet of Carter Lake and travel above ground down the mountainside to the powerhouse.

The existing Crescent Lake trail could be used to access the outlet flow structure on the west side of the lake. On the Carter Lake side, HDR would put in a new, single-lane, 2.5-mile ro
ad up past Carter Lake to access the intake structure on Crescent. Bethard said HDR considered just widening and using the existing trail, but the first part is probably too steep for that.

The Crescent Lake project has a rated capacity of 5.8 MW, but energy output would again depend on how much water is used. In its modeling, HDR figures 23.4 million kWh if no water is released through the creek, 16.1 million kWh if 33 percent of the water goes down the creek, and 8.8 million kWh if 66 percent of the water is released.

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Muddying the waters — Hydrocarbon pollution reduced, turbidity churns up new river threat

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Just as the Kenai River celebrates a victory over pollution, there’s evidence of another threat to ecology lurking below the surface.

Score one for the Kenai River, at least as far as hydrocarbons go. But that isn’t the only threat the Kenai is facing, Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, told the Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition in a meeting Thursday. There’s another challenge lurking in — or murking up — the water: turbidity.

Turbidity is muddy water — sediment suspended in the water column. It occurs naturally so it’s not pollution as it’s often thought of, like gasoline, oil or some other foreign substance dumped in the water. Turbidity can result from any number of natural circumstances, even a bear stirring up mud when it wades out to fish, or the fish flopping through shallow water if it happens to escape.

On the Kenai, there’s a certain amount of natural background turbidity, measured in NTUs (Nephelometric Turbidity Units). Five NTUs is about the level where turbidity becomes noticeable from clear water, Ruffner said. The Kenai’s normal background turbidity level can range from single digits up to the mid-20s, he said. The turbidity level can spike much higher — up to 50 or 60 NTUs — and still be a natural event, Ruffner said, when the Funny and Killey rivers pump runoff and meltwater into the Kenai.

But it can also occur from nonnatural events, as appears to be the case during July. The culprit, as it was with hydrocarbons, appears to be boats. As motorboat use increased during the summer, so did turbidity readings.

“Along the edge of the water where the boat wakes hit the bank there’s a pretty clearly defined zone of turbidity along the bank,” Ruffner said.

Mixing it up

The Kenai Watershed Forum studied turbidity this summer with instruments placed 15 to 30 feet from shore at Eagle Rock, river mile 11.5, and Swiftwater Park, river mile 23. The instruments took readings every 15 minutes from May 15 to Sept. 1 — except for a few hiccups.

“Somebody shot the buoy one day, which didn’t make us very happy. We lost a few day’s data,” Ruffner said. And at one point someone pulled the buoy at Swiftwater onshore. But, “we have a really good data set to take a look at this,” he said.

From mid-May to mid-June, turbidity levels were about the same at Swiftwater and Eagle Rock, ranging from single digits up to mid-20s NTUs. A little later in June, turbidity at both sites rose to a little above 50 NTUs for a few days, which is attributable to the Funny and Killey rivers discharging, Ruffner said.

In late June and July, things changed. The Swiftwater sensor, which is upriver from the busy motorboat section of the river, recorded turbidity levels similar to May and June, with a few increases in background turbidity from the Killey and Funny rivers. But Eagle Rock saw significant spikes in turbidity, up to just below 100 NTUs the first two weeks in July, and up to 140 and 150 NTUs the last two weeks of July. That’s 80 NTUs above even an elevated background level from the Funny and Killey rivers, and about 130 NTUs above a calm turbidity background.

The spikes at Eagle Rock occurred twice a day, once in early morning and once in the evening — which is typically when boats head out on the river and when they take out at the end of the day. The exception was Mondays, the drift boat-only day on the river, when there were no unnatural turbidity spikes.

“That’s a pretty repeatable pattern, and on Mondays we don’t see that,” Ruffner said. “There’s no other obvious explanation than boat traffic that causes those spikes.”

Even if the relationship between motorboat traffic and increased turbidity is clear, as Ruffner said, what isn’t clear is what might happen because of it.

One answer is nothing, at least for the time being. Ruffner said it takes two years of monitoring to establish baseline data, and the turbidity study will continue again this summer. And data can be interpreted in different ways. If DEC takes daily averages of turbidity levels, for example, that approach would obliterate the significance of the morning and evening spikes.

Coming up with clear turbidity data can be murky in and of itself, what with having to factor in the effects of tide changes, tributary stream drainage and river flow lag time between the two sensor locations.

“It’s a pretty monumental task, it’s not going to be simple,” Ruffner said. “If people want to question or consider how you get there, that’s one very obvious thing to criticize. I can see right away that I’m going to be faced with that challenge.”

Members of the Fishermen’s Coalition said they wanted to be proactive about the situation.

“Intuitively, it makes sense that there’s an impact there,” said Ken Tarbox. “… The burden of proof isn’t on biologists to show harm, the offending action has to show no harm, if you want to protect the resource.”

Jack Sinclair, area superintendent for the state Parks department, said that perhaps the Kenai River Special Management Area board will take up turbidity like it did hydrocarbon pollution and pursue regulatory changes to address the issue.

“We’ve gone through this once before and seen where it went, so maybe that will make a difference. I don’t know,” he said.

Dwight Kramer, chair of the coalition, said it may be up to concerned residents to drum up awareness of the topic if they want to see regulatory changes to address it, just as they did with hydrocarbons.

“I don’t think if we left it up to DEC we’d be where we are today,” Kramer said. “It might be incumbent on us, if we see this progressing in the next few years, to start pushing it from our level.”

So, what?

The Kenai’s turbidity can spike up to 50 or 60 NTUs naturally, and other rivers in the state, like the Yukon, can have higher turbidity levels than the Kenai and still support fish runs.

“When you look at the data you can tell that something different is going on. It’s pretty easy to see what is occurring naturally without going into any statistics or doing anything fancy from the data, and you can see these departures from what’s going on in the background,” Ruffner said. “The ultimate question is, so what? Is that a problem for the aquatic resources that are in the Kenai River and that make the Kenai River what it is? I don’t have a good answer for that.”

Turbidity can cause a variety of harms. For sight-feeding organisms, which can include juvenile fish, turbidity can mean they can’t see to find food. Certain sizes and shapes of particles can lodge in the gills of organisms that filter water. Turbidity can impact fish reproduction if sediment settles into the bottom of the river on spawning beds. And it’s a sign of bank erosion.

“That mud in the water is made up of the stuff that was on the bank,” Ruffner said.

Technically, the summer’s turbidity results put the Kenai out of compliance with water quality standards. For water bodies that don’t have a designated use — like recreation, transportation, etc. — by the state, the most stringent water quality standards under the Clean Water Act apply to it, Ruffner said. The state EPA hasn’t designated a use for the Kenai, or most water bodies in the state, so the standard for drinking water applies, which is no more than five NTUs above background levels. But Ruffner said he doubted this summer’s test results would land the river on the EPA’s impaired listing over turbidity anytime soon.

“The people who sit in the regulatory chair don’t really care what the people in the biology chair are saying. I doubt that we’re going to get an impaired status listing anytime soon,” he said.

There are a lot of questions still to sort out. Should turbidity be figured for the river as a whole, or in sections? Should turbidity results be looked at on an hourly, daily, weekly or some other basis? What effect do increases in turbidity have on the river?

People’s leaning on the politics of the river may affect their opinion of those questions.

“This is knowing full well that there will be people that will take this in and apply it to their interest, either for or against it, and that can’t be surprising to anybody. And it’s no different than what we saw with the hydrocarbon issue. People were able to spin that either way,” Ruffner said. “I don’t really know how people are going to take this and use it or not use it. From my perspective, if we’re documenting a problem with water quality, that ought to come first. We ought to protect water quality.”

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Muddying the waters — Hydrocarbon pollution reduced, turbidity churns up new river threat

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Just as the Kenai River celebrates a victory over pollution, there’s evidence of another threat to ecology lurking below the surface.

Score one for the Kenai River, at least as far as hydrocarbons go. But that isn’t the only threat the Kenai is facing, Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, told the Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition in a meeting Thursday. There’s another challenge lurking in — or murking up — the water: turbidity.

Turbidity is muddy water — sediment suspended in the water column. It occurs naturally so it’s not pollution as it’s often thought of, like gasoline, oil or some other foreign substance dumped in the water. Turbidity can result from any number of natural circumstances, even a bear stirring up mud when it wades out to fish, or the fish flopping through shallow water if it happens to escape.

On the Kenai, there’s a certain amount of natural background turbidity, measured in NTUs (Nephelometric Turbidity Units). Five NTUs is about the level where turbidity becomes noticeable from clear water, Ruffner said. The Kenai’s normal background turbidity level can range from single digits up to the mid-20s, he said. The turbidity level can spike much higher — up to 50 or 60 NTUs — and still be a natural event, Ruffner said, when the Funny and Killey rivers pump runoff and meltwater into the Kenai.

But it can also occur from nonnatural events, as appears to be the case during July. The culprit, as it was with hydrocarbons, appears to be boats. As motorboat use increased during the summer, so did turbidity readings.

“Along the edge of the water where the boat wakes hit the bank there’s a pretty clearly defined zone of turbidity along the bank,” Ruffner said.

Mixing it up

The Kenai Watershed Forum studied turbidity this summer with instruments placed 15 to 30 feet from shore at Eagle Rock, river mile 11.5, and Swiftwater Park, river mile 23. The instruments took readings every 15 minutes from May 15 to Sept. 1 — except for a few hiccups.

“Somebody shot the buoy one day, which didn’t make us very happy. We lost a few day’s data,” Ruffner said. And at one point someone pulled the buoy at Swiftwater onshore. But, “we have a really good data set to take a look at this,” he said.

From mid-May to mid-June, turbidity levels were about the same at Swiftwater and Eagle Rock, ranging from single digits up to mid-20s NTUs. A little later in June, turbidity at both sites rose to a little above 50 NTUs for a few days, which is attributable to the Funny and Killey rivers discharging, Ruffner said.

In late June and July, things changed. The Swiftwater sensor, which is upriver from the busy motorboat section of the river, recorded turbidity levels similar to May and June, with a few increases in background turbidity from the Killey and Funny rivers. But Eagle Rock saw significant spikes in turbidity, up to just below 100 NTUs the first two weeks in July, and up to 140 and 150 NTUs the last two weeks of July. That’s 80 NTUs above even an elevated background level from the Funny and Killey rivers, and about 130 NTUs above a calm turbidity background.

The spikes at Eagle Rock occurred twice a day, once in early morning and once in the evening — which is typically when boats head out on the river and when they take out at the end of the day. The exception was Mondays, the drift boat-only day on the river, when there were no unnatural turbidity spikes.

“That’s a pretty repeatable pattern, and on Mondays we don’t see that,” Ruffner said. “There’s no other obvious explanation than boat traffic that causes those spikes.”

Even if the relationship between motorboat traffic and increased turbidity is clear, as Ruffner said, what isn’t clear is what might happen because of it.

One answer is nothing, at least for the time being. Ruffner said it takes two years of monitoring to establish baseline data, and the turbidity study will continue again this summer. And data can be interpreted in different ways. If DEC takes daily averages of turbidity levels, for example, that approach would obliterate the significance of the morning and evening spikes.

Coming up with clear turbidity data can be murky in and of itself, what with having to factor in the effects of tide changes, tributary stream drainage and river flow lag time between the two sensor locations.

“It’s a pretty monumental task, it’s not going to be simple,” Ruffner said. “If people want to question or consider how you get there, that’s one very obvious thing to criticize. I can see right away that I’m going to be faced with that challenge.”

Members of the Fishermen’s Coalition said they wanted to be proactive about the situation.

“Intuitively, it makes sense that there’s an impact there,” said Ken Tarbox. “… The burden of proof isn’t on biologists to show harm, the offending action has to show no harm, if you want to protect the resource.”

Jack Sinclair, area superintendent for the state Parks department, said that perhaps the Kenai River Special Management Area board will take up turbidity like it did hydrocarbon pollution and pursue regulatory changes to address the issue.

“We’ve gone through this once before and seen where it went, so maybe that will make a difference. I don’t know,” he said.

Dwight Kramer, chair of the coalition, said it may be up to concerned residents to drum up awareness of the topic if they want to see regulatory changes to address it, just as they did with hydrocarbons.

“I don’t think if we left it up to DEC we’d be where we are today,” Kramer said. “It might be incumbent on us, if we see this progressing in the next few years, to start pushing it from our level.”

So, what?

The Kenai’s turbidity can spike up to 50 or 60 NTUs naturally, and other rivers in the state, like the Yukon, can have higher turbidity levels than the Kenai and still support fish runs.

“When you look at the data you can tell that something different is going on. It’s pretty easy to see what is occurring naturally without going into any statistics or doing anything fancy from the data, and you can see these departures from what’s going on in the background,” Ruffner said. “The ultimate question is, so what? Is that a problem for the aquatic resources that are in the Kenai River and that make the Kenai River what it is? I don’t have a good answer for that.”

Turbidity can cause a variety of harms. For sight-feeding organisms, which can include juvenile fish, turbidity can mean they can’t see to find food. Certain sizes and shapes of particles can lodge in the gills of organisms that filter water. Turbidity can impact fish reproduction if sediment settles into the bottom of the river on spawning beds. And it’s a sign of bank erosion.

“That mud in the water is made up of the stuff that was on the bank,” Ruffner said.

Technically, the summer’s turbidity results put the Kenai out of compliance with water quality standards. For water bodies that don’t have a designated use — like recreation, transportation, etc. — by the state, the most stringent water quality standards under the Clean Water Act apply to it, Ruffner said. The state EPA hasn’t designated a use for the Kenai, or most water bodies in the
state, so the standard for drinking water applies, which is no more than five NTUs above background levels. But Ruffner said he doubted this summer’s test results would land the river on the EPA’s impaired listing over turbidity anytime soon.

“The people who sit in the regulatory chair don’t really care what the people in the biology chair are saying. I doubt that we’re going to get an impaired status listing anytime soon,” he said.

There are a lot of questions still to sort out. Should turbidity be figured for the river as a whole, or in sections? Should turbidity results be looked at on an hourly, daily, weekly or some other basis? What effect do increases in turbidity have on the river?

People’s leaning on the politics of the river may affect their opinion of those questions.

“This is knowing full well that there will be people that will take this in and apply it to their interest, either for or against it, and that can’t be surprising to anybody. And it’s no different than what we saw with the hydrocarbon issue. People were able to spin that either way,” Ruffner said. “I don’t really know how people are going to take this and use it or not use it. From my perspective, if we’re documenting a problem with water quality, that ought to come first. We ought to protect water quality.”

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