Next month will mark a year since the Kalifornsky flooding was declared a federal disaster and many impacted residents are still feeling the effects of high ground water.
After months of waiting, Karluk Acres farm owners Julie Wendt and Paul Vass recently received reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair their house foundation, barn and property from the 2013 flood. The family of three has had to use water sparingly because their septic system barely works, Wendt said.
“When the flood happened we had to slaughter half our livestock because we couldn’t keep them dry,” Wendt said. “Once breakup was over this spring everything settled down and we started making repairs but then had to wait and see if the flood would return again in the fall.”
A few houses away, Dustin Clark said he was unable to get a grant to prove the damage done to his deck was the result of flooding that heaved his deck on Sonotube piers four inches and cracked 20 floor tiles and Sheetrock.
Clark said the flooding was difficult for his neighbors, some of whom still have to use honey buckets because of damaged septic systems. He said Wendt’s ducks and geese were swimming in her yard.
While the Kenai Peninsula didn’t see the same level of rain this fall as the year before, some Kalifornsky residents still have water in their crawlspaces and their septic systems are under water, Wendt said.
In response to the flooding, the borough installed culverts and cleaned out ditches on Karluk Avenue, Patrick Drive, Eastway Road, Eider Drive and pumped water to flow out the Chine outlet. At the peak of the flooding, water flowed down Karluk Avenue and pooled on a corner lot, which became known as the Karluk basin. The borough drilled under Kalifornsky Beach Road to pump water down to the beach.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said all the work done in these areas would help in the event of another flood.
“It’s important to keep in mind the genesis of the 2013 flood,” he said. “We had several years of heavy snowfall and over average rainfall that particular summer. In late October it was still raining then we had that monsoon that came through for two days and dumped a lot of water into that wetland system.”
Wendt said her feeling is that many of the residents affected by the flood are looking to the borough to come up with a permanent solution.
Kenai rancher Dave Yragui and eight other area residents have formed the K-beach High Water Drainage Task Force with the goal to work with the borough and Department of Natural Resources to come up with a permanent drainage solution.
Yragui said he is from “old school” way of thinking and is not interested in waiting for the borough to study the issue before taking action when people’s homes and health are at risk.
“I’m not one for relying on the government for anything,” he said. “I think the citizens can get together and create something good of all this. Every cloud has a silver lining.”
Yragui has proposed a 10-foot-wide, 2-foot-deep drainage swale to be constructed from Buoy Street up the Seventh Street section line to an existing drainage easement in a natural channel crossing Eider Drive. Excess water from the wetlands used to run north to the beaver pond near Eider Drive but years of vegetation growth has blocked the water from getting through, he said.
“Our intent is if we can take the ground water and direct it out to the Kenai River and Cook Inlet we can reduce the surface water,” he said. “It would not only benefit my property, but it benefits everyone downstream.”
Navarre said the borough doesn’t support the proposed ditch, which would be constructed on 400 acres of borough owned land. To start trenching without knowing what the impacts will be “makes no sense,” he said.
Borough Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander said the borough has made substantial improvements to Karluk, Buoy, Trawling and Chine all designed to keep the road infrastructure drivable and clear of water, while also providing drainage to protect residents in the area.
“If you take water from the wetlands and move it from here to here, which is what (the proposed ditch) would do, these folks should never see water,” Ostrander said. “If they start to see this water and move through the infrastructure, all you’re doing is making this area, which should never be impacted, impacted. That is what we are trying to guard against.”
Navarre said the borough does not have the authority to construct a large-scale drainage system and has asked DNR to get involved, but a change in administration has slowed down the process.
Vass said he attended the last task force meeting earlier this month to see if the borough and residents could come together. While he said he appreciated the improvements the borough made to keep water off the roads, he would like to see a plan for a drainage system to prevent future flooding and would be in favor of a flood service area.
Navarre said the borough considered making the Kalifornsky neighborhood a flood service area but to collect taxes from the residents to construct a large, expensive drainage system for a one-time event in the last 30 years didn’t seem to make fiscal sense.
“High ground water is not unique to this area,” he said. “For a project of this scope we need to determine what we’re trying to accomplish, whether it would work, then, how do you pay for it.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org