By Jenny Neyman
The search continues for a new executive director for the Kenai Watershed Forum. Robert Ruffner, who has led the organization since its formation in 1997, announced in January his plans to move on to other pursuits by the end of the fiscal year. But after a nationwide candidate search, the watershed forum’s board of directors came up empty.
“We cast a big net and got a lot of applicants in, narrowed that down to two finalists, and brought them both up here. We decided on one, offered that individual the job but then things fell through with that so that put us in a position where we needed to re-evaluate what we were doing,” said board member Matt Pyhala.
The search is beginning anew, this time focusing closer to home, on the Kenai Peninsula and within Alaska, Pyhala said. In the meantime, Ruffner is still serving as executive director, and the watershed forum’s work is continuing as usual.
“The Kenai Watershed Forum is going forward, the future looks great, it’s business as usual,” Pyhala said.
He outlined the highlights of a busy summer season, including the 25th anniversary of the Kenai River Festival and the 21st season of the Stream Watch program.
“This year there were over 180 volunteers, (over) 1,500 hours sharing information with people using the river, about proper use and protecting the watershed and being stewards,” Pyhala said.
The summer camp program continues to be a growing success, as does the Adopt-A-Stream program during the school year.
“Those kids that come to the summer camp, those are the future of people that are going to defend the watershed. So that’s a huge, huge success,” he said.
The war on invasive weeds continues, with the organization helping in the removal of the aquatic plant elodea from lakes in Nikiski, and the continued battle against the shoreline reed canary grass.
The Watershed Forum conducted another busy summer of fieldwork, first and foremost continuing its 15 years of water quality monitoring on the Kenai River. Testing results were within expected parameters, but, as Ruffner explains, maintaining a consistent record of data is as important as finding anything new or different.
“It’s important to keep track of that because things are changing all the time. We’ve seen changes in temperature and changes in nutrients from year to year so just having a general understanding of that is pretty important to keep track of over the long term,” Ruffner said.
The Watershed Forum is expanding water monitoring to Beaver and Ptarmigan creeks and the Russian River at the behest of researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. One of the exciting outcomes of that project will be making data available to the public.
“We’ve revitalized a very old water quantity monitoring station in the Russian River and we’re working to actually make that available online so that people can figure out what the water temperatures are and how high the water is. I think that’s going to be pretty popular once we figure out how to get that up and running and online where people can actually see what the changes are,” Ruffner said.
The organization helped remediate illegal fill dumped along Stariski Creek.
“So it should reconnect in those areas to the flood plain and generally do what wetlands do, which is filter the water out and provide that nutrient exchange between the near-shore riparian environment and the creek itself,” Ruffner said.
Coming up this winter, the Watershed Forum will lead a project to install bridges made of old railroad cars across creeks on the north road extension.
“People are using that pipeline corridor out north to access their cabins and just recreate out there. Our goal is to try to get stuff up out of the creek, keep people from driving through it on any kind of regular basis,” Ruffner said.
Pyhala said that the executive director search is beginning again in earnest now that the busy summer season is over, and Ruffner said he’d stay at the helm while his successor is found.