The Kenai City Council appropriated grant funds for summer water quality testing in the Kenai River at their meeting Wednesday.
Kenai received about $56,000 from the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for the Kenai Watershed Forum to monitor bacteria levels during the 2019 to 2020 Personal Use Fishery.
The grant supports funding for coliform and enterocci bacteria testing in the Kenai River. In the past, according to the ordinance, bacteria levels have risen to levels that could pose a health risk to beachgoers and fishery participants.
The city hires Kenai Watershed Forum as a contractor to collect the water samples. The forum has monitored water quality for over a decade, but the council was apprehensive to approve the grant money again after a case of “word salad” last year, according to Council member Jim Glendening.
“Last year, one of the Kenai Watershed Forum employees was on the beach and was interviewed by a KTUU TV person,” said City Manager Paul Ostrander. “They gave their opinion as to what the data was, what the sampling showed and it didn’t shed a very positive light on our beaches. I think that the feeling is that it was inappropriate for that information to be shared at that point to the study … It’s not appropriate to do it in the middle of the sampling. I think that’s where the rub is at.”
Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director Branden Bornemann responded that he did not believe that the sampling scientist gave their opinion.
“There is a DEC representative out there that did most of the talking,” Bornemann told the council. “Most of the statements were made from her. In addition to that, I wanted to point out that the … DEC is obligated to do a press release within, I believe, 24 hours of that exceeded sampled being taken.”
Bornemann said that the DEC will have to run all of their press releases through the city of Kenai before they are official. With this caveat, the Kenai City Council unanimously approved the ordinance.