Submission of a state water quality report to the federal government is on hold again. The Department of Environmental Conservation’s integrated water quality and assessment is overdue by five years.
The delay has largely been because of disagreements about data collection regarding turbidity levels on the Kenai river. A new research program planned for this summer aims to answer some additional questions that have popped up in the last half decade.
The report in question has faced blowback for years from the sportfishing community. One of the culprits for turbidity levels that exceed state standards could be those brief episodes of increased boat traffic in July, though that’s not the only time those levels see a spike. To get a better picture of what boat traffic is like, and how it may or may not play a role in water quality standards, researchers will actually get some better pictures.
“We’ll actually do a flyover with a plane with a high resolution camera to count the entire river from the mouth to Kenai lake," says Jack Sinclair, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum. The high-flying photo shoot is just one part of the study. Using a $17,000 grant from DEC, they’ll be working with other agencies and some citizen scientists throughout the month of July to document much more than simply the number of boats on the water, with a focus on the lower river.
“We’ll be monitoring boats going up and down, what their behavior is, the number of boats, direction of travel, relative distance from the bank, (we’ll) monitor their speed and if they’re planing or if they’re plowing, as they say. Also, what type of hull, how many people are on the boat and also any presence or lack of presence of turbidity in the water," Sinclair said.
That level of detailed information has been sought for years, and even though it will be a small sample size, it should add at least some clarity to DEC’s long overdue assessment.
“It’s kind of based on what had been done back in 2008-2010. There was a shorter window of time when they did do some monitoring of the number of boats. This is going to be going for 26 days, starting on the 6th of July, going on continuously until July 31st. We’ll have eight days of people actually on the banks in those particular places doing some observer boat counts. (It’s) kind of a crosscheck and also gives us a chance to really get a feel for what's happening out there besides what a camera captures.”
The goal is to see if there’s anything to the correlation between boats and turbidity that was found in the initial study, which is now almost 10 years old.
“It is all related to the integrated report. And from what I can tell, they’re going to delay release of that report to the Environmental Protection Agency another six months, perhaps, until they get this information back. I don’t know if that really changes anything. But it gives everyone a little more assurance about what the conditions are, because there are people who are concerned about whether the characteristics of the boat traffic has changed out there and the number of boats or just the conditions, so this may give them an idea of what that is," Sinclair said.
Researchers will have a short turnaround time to analyze that data. Sinclair expects the study to be finished by the end of August. Anyone interested in helping with the counts can get in touch with the Watershed Forum. The full description of the study will be available next month.