As local streams warm on the Kenai Peninsula, cold water inputs could be crucial for salmon


Ben Meyer with a fish trap on Beaver Creek in Kenai. (Sabine Poux / KDLL)

A pocket of Beaver Creek, a short walk from a gravel parking lot between Kenai and Soldotna, is home to several cold water intakes that could be of critical importance to young salmon as they swim from the Kenai River to Cook Inlet .

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Cook Inletkeeper executive director Sue Mauger said the inputs are like cold water taps.

“It’s a small place where there is a constant pump of cooler water,” she said. “And that can really help dab on when we have those really hot sunny days to have cold water coming into the creek.”

Inletkeeper is working with the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust to map these cold water points in four streams on the Kenai Peninsula. The goal is to protect these streams and the salmon that use them.

Here’s the catch: inputs fall on a patchwork of private and urban land.

Nonprofits contact landowners to let them know they have something special in their garden.

“Anyone who owns a waterfront property knows they have a really special habitat,” said Mauger. “Like, they know it’s important. That’s why they bought the property, probably, to be on the river. But then be told, “You have an additional special property.” You have something really unique on your property, it is very exciting for someone.

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On a cold, rainy day in Beaver Creek, environmental specialist Ben Meyer pulled a juvenile coho salmon out of a fish trap and placed it in an observation container.

“This is an example of a creature that I hope will benefit from some of the conservation work that we do,” he said.

In hot weather, there can be several degrees of temperature difference between streams and their cold water inlets.

The entrance has some of Alaska’s warmest measured streams. Temperatures are expected to rise as climate change accelerates, which is not good for the salmon circulating in these areas.

Cold water intakes, Mauger said, are like buffers against rising temperatures. But they could be threatened by new roads or gravel pits in the region.

Nonprofits have spent the past summer plotting cold water point diagrams from the sky, using helicopters and thermal infrared images. Now they are measuring it from the ground to verify this data.

“And so, honestly, half the fun of this project is that we go out there, we have this little treasure map and we can just, like, run around, try to find them,” Mauger said. “And it’s exciting because we do find them.”

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These data points appear on a map on Meyer’s phone. It looks like a treasure map, with X’s marking cold water spots and lines where one person’s property becomes another’s.

From now on, nonprofits will contact landowners to conserve cold water supplies on their land.

Lauren Rusin is the Conservation Officer of the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. She said there are grants available for people who decide not to rely on their streams or put in place protective measures, like setbacks.

“And we have a unique opportunity, I think, in Alaska that we have the ability to get it right the first time around,” she said. “We don’t do a lot of remediation work or anything here. We have the opportunity to reach out to those landowners who are often the first or second in the chain of title, from the state becoming a state of a territory of Russia.

Branden Bornemann, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, said landowners are generally surprised to learn that they live in such a large watershed.

“Maybe you’ve had this property all your life and didn’t know there was a very small feeder stream in Beaver Creek which is incredibly important to the productivity of the Kenai River,” he said. -he declares.

Mauger said it’s important to think about the downstream health effects of streams, especially as climate change is making waters warmer and salmon habitats less hospitable.

“That’s what I can do – as a scientist who has studied how rivers change, that feeling of doom, you have to actively push back,” she said. “And for me, this job does that. It helps me think about: How can I give this river its best chance to change the climate? And it’s those cold water taps. Make them move forward. Keep.

She thinks the Alaskans are up to the challenge of protecting those taps. First, they need to know they’re there.

Editor’s Note: Branden Bornemann is on the KDLL Board of Directors.


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