About 150 people gathered under cloudy skies September 22nd and formed a bucket brigade line at the outlet of Eklutna Lake to celebrate the removal of a dam eight miles downstream that has blocked salmon runs for nearly 90 years.
Completed this summer, the $7.5 million project was undertaken by the Conservation Fund, a private and national non-profit organization, in partnership with the Native Village of Eklutna and Eklutna Inc.
Organizing the celebration was Brad Meiklejohn, Alaska state director of the Conservation Fund. Meiklejohn managed the five-year dam removal project from conception to its final deconstruction this summer.
“We gathered folks today to symbolically move water from Eklutna Lake into a river that has been neglected for almost a century,” he said. “Removing the lower deadbeat dam was the first step in returning sufficient water to the river so that a salmon run can be re-established—an important milestone for Alaska.”
Located on property owned by Eklutna, Inc., the 61-foot dam served an early hydroelectric project that became obsolete in 1955 with the completion of a 4-1/2-mile diversion tunnel from Eklutna Lake to the Knik River. The tunnel was part of a $32 million federal hydroelectric project (1951-55) that is still in operation today.
Since then the old dam filled with river sediments and silt and served no useful purpose.
At a gathering near Eklutna Lake before the bucket brigade, Meiklejohn expressed his gratitude to a number of organizations for their support of the dam removal project; including the Rasmuson Foundation, MJ Murdock Trust, Patagonia, Alaska Center, Resources Legacy Fund, Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, Mat-Su Salmon Partnership.
Other agencies and organizations involved in the project included the U.S. Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Alaska Dam Safety Program in the Department of Natural Resources and HDR, Inc., a global engineering consultant.
Joining in the celebration were several Eklutna, Inc. shareholders, including board director Aaron Leggett, who is tribal chief of the Native Village of Eklutna.
He noted that someday restoring Eklutna River to its historic status as a salmon producer is a significant milestone, not only for Eklutna, Inc. shareholders, but for all Alaskans.
Owning 90,000 acres within the Municipality of Anchorage, including Eagle River, Birchwood, Chugiak, Peters Creek and Eklutna, Eklutna, Inc. is Anchorage’s private largest landowner.
Along with Eklutna, Inc., major stakeholders in the Eklutna watershed include three power companies: Municipal Light and Power, Chugach Electric and Matanuska Electric Association; as well as the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility—all of which draw water from Eklutna Lake, located about 35 miles northeast of Anchorage.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired grade school teacher.