Water quality tests show cleaner Kenai River

Kenai, Alaska (AP) 10-07
Water quality data from last summer shows an improvement in the hydrocarbon levels in the Kenai River, perhaps due to fewer polluting two-stroke motors.

Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, said hydrocarbon levels above the Warren Ames Bridge still exceeded state water quality standards, but they were slightly lower this year than in previous years.

Two teams of scientists from the Watershed Forum and the Department of Environmental Conservation monitored water quality standards at two places on the river. The tests were done at the peak of the season in order to see what the water quality would be like at the highest use period.

“That’s pretty good news because we had less water in the river,” Ruffner said. “When you have less water there’s less water to dilute the hydrocarbons. If (there) would have been more water in the river we wouldn’t have exceeded state water quality standards up from the Warren Ames Bridge.”

The number of boats on the river hasn’t changed since the last time a comprehensive water quality study was done in 2003, but Ruffner said he suspects that the number of hydrocarbons are lower in the Kenai River Special Management Area because there are fewer two-stroke motors on the river.

Scientists reached a peak count of about 720 boats on the river at the same time on a Saturday during the dipnet and sport fishing season.

“The only other thing that changed very much was that the percentage of two-strokes went down a little bit and that’s why we think that is having a positive impact,” he said.

These findings reinforce Ruffner’s assertion that hydrocarbon levels are directly related to the types of boats that are on the water. He said the first study that documented a hydrocarbon issue on the Kenai River was done by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in 1991, but there was a nine-year gap until the watershed forum put together a group of agencies to examine the issue.

“The study where we clearly documented that it was the boats that were doing this was done in 2001 or 2002, where we sampled the river in the last day of fishing on July 31,” Ruffner said. “We went back out the next day and we couldn’t detect it anywhere. (One day) we were exceeding state water standards and the next day we couldn’t detect it at all.”

Restricting the number of two-stroke motors below the bridge would be one way of addressing that hydrocarbon issue, Ruffner said.

The Kenaitze tribe has been trying to accomplish that with their two-stroke exchange program. The tribe has purchased almost 180 motors from anglers this summer in exchange for $500 toward a new four-stroke motor.

The Kenaitze Tribe will continue its exchange program until the end of December.