Glacial dam release raises river levels

Kenai Peninsula residents along the Kenai River could notice higher-than-normal water levels this weekend as a glacial dam releases above Skilak Lake.

The Skilak Glacier Dammed Lake, which is on the Harding Ice Field about 18 miles up-valley and southeast from Skilak Lake, began releasing early this week, said Crane Johnson, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage. National Weather Service staff noticed the elevated water levels and decided to get an alert out so that those living near the river would be aware, he said.

“We noticed it right around … Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning,” Johnson said.

Those who live along the Kenai River, especially in the Kenai Keys neighborhood in Sterling and the Big Eddy area in Soldotna, will notice rising water levels throughout the weekend and into next week, according to a special weather statement posted by the National Weather Service.

“Now is the time to plan for high water and take necessary precautions, including securing equipment and moving items to higher ground,” the alert states.

Skilak Glacier Dammed Lake releases every two to three years, Johnson said, though there were two release events in a row in 2013 and 2014. The Kenai River at Soldotna is projected to rise to 9.6 feet by Sunday, according to hydrographs on the National Weather Service website, and the river at the Kenai Keys area is expected to rise to just over 9 feet. The river would have to reach 12 feet in Soldotna and 11 feet in the Kenai Keys to be considered in a “flood stage,” according to the graphs.

While National Weather Service staff base water level predictions on previous dam releases, Johnson said the events themselves can sometimes deviate from the norm. The National Weather Service will post updated alerts if the water levels end up rising much slower or faster than originally predicted, he said.

Snow Glacier Dammed Lake, which is also on a two-to-three year release schedule, released into the Snow and other rivers last fall and caused elevated water levels in the Kenai River. Since Skilak Glacier Dammed Lake is smaller, its water release events are smaller in volume, Johnson said, but extend over a longer period of days.

High water levels in the Kenai River will likely last into the middle of next week, Johnson said. He suggested people living along the river be prepared for high water and “monitor river conditions for any changes.”

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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