Anglers fish on the Kenai River on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Anglers fish on the Kenai River on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Watershed Forum awarded nearly $100,000 grant

The funds will be used to sample the water quality in the Kenai River.

The Kenai Watershed Forum was selected as a recipient of a Bureau of Reclamation grant, according to a news release from the organization.

The Bureau had $2.6 million to distribute among 27 western U.S. regions to establish or expand existing watershed management groups. Alaska and Hawaii both became eligible to apply for the grant program in 2019, following 10 other previously eligible western states.

The forum was awarded $99,172 to sample the water quality in the Kenai River.

“The Bureau of Reclamation grant came at the exact right time for us,” Executive Director of the Kenai Watershed Forum Branden Bornemann said. “That was exciting. We’re very proud to be on the list that was announced.”

The last couple of years have proved a little more difficult than ones prior, Bornemann said, as funding was tighter.

With the forum’s first Bureau of Reclamation grant, Bornemann said the grant dollars will be used to continue testing the Kenai River’s water quality.

Since 2000, the watershed forum has sampled the river twice annually in an effort to identify any environmental risk factors. Bornemann said they view testing the water like going to the doctor for a checkup a few times per year.

“We have generated a ton of data from that project,” he said.

In the early 2000s, the forum’s sampling team discovered the presence of hydrocarbon pollution in the Kenai River caused by inefficient two-stroke boat motors. A motor buyback program was then implemented and the two-stroke motors were banned in an effort to protect the quality of the river.

Bornemann said that’s just one example of success in the past 21 years as a result of sampling. Since then, the forum hasn’t detected any hydrocarbons in the Kenai River.

With the bureau grant, the forum will continue the sampling project by analyzing the last five years of data to determine any trends in water quality. He said a lot of watershed forums aren’t as fortunate — because of funding, some aren’t able to continue testing consistently.

In addition to water quality tests, the forum also plans to submit data to the Environmental Protection Agency for Water Quality Exchange qualification, as well as release educational materials and deliver findings to the public by next summer.

“I think it’s a privilege for our community to keep a sampling like that alive,” Bornemann said. “That’s the beauty of it really — its longevity.”

Along with the Kenai Watershed Forum, the Chugach Regional Resources Commission and the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition and Metlakatla Indian Community Department of Fish and Wildlife are also grant recipients, both in the amount of nearly $100,000.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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