Glacial dam release affects peninsula rivers

The release of a glacial dam at Snow Glacier Dammed Lake is causing water levels to rise in connecting rivers.

Snow Glacier Dammed Lake is located east of Moose Pass at the headwaters of Snow River, about 25 miles from Seward. Its water levels were last measured at about 2,590 feet in August, according to the lake’s status report on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, website. Every two years or so in the fall, the glacial dam at the lake releases, and the lake drains underneath Snow Glacier into nearby rivers, said Eric Holloway, a meteorologist with NOAA.

The glacial lake began releasing around noon on Saturday, and Holloway said the natural process will not pose a threat to people living near affected bodies of water — the Snow River and the Kenai River, which are connected. The risk for flooding would increase if water levels in the rivers had been higher or there was a large “rain event,” he said.

“We’ll see a slight rise in the Kenai River,” said Brenda Ahlberg, community and fiscal projects manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management. “Really, it’s just a matter of precaution.”

Near Cooper Landing, the Kenai River was last observed at just over 10 feet and is projected to rise less than one foot on Wednesday before it starts receding, according to a hydrograph charting its water levels on NOAA’s website. The Snow River was last observed to be nearly 13 feet, and is projected to begin receding on Wednesday.

The Snow River would have to rise to 16 feet to be in a “flood stage,” while the Kenai River near Cooper Landing would need to rise to 13 feet, according to their respective graphs.

“We kind of monitor early in the season by doing flyovers,” Holloway said. “When it (the dam) starts releasing, we continue watching the hydrograph.”

Ahlberg said the Office of Emergency Management is tasked with making sure people are aware of the situation. In the event of a flood, the office would “activate (its) emergency management team for support,” Ahlberg said.

For residents who live along the Kenai or Snow rivers, pulling their outdoor belongings up and away from the riverbanks is a good precaution to take, Ahlberg said. Area fishermen should also be on the lookout for possible floating debris, she said.

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