Chugach Electric members, cast your vote: support Eklutna River restoration

Photo by - Ryan Peterson

Southcentral Alaskans:

The Chugach Electric Association (CEA) Board of Directors election and fishing opportunity in Southcentral Alaska have more in common than you may think.  

The CEA Board has potential to restore historical Chinook salmon habitat and create additional angling opportunity for Alaskans because CEA is a part owner of the Ekltuna Hydropower Project. There is a legally obligated mitigation process underway to make up for the hydropwer project’s impact to fish and wildlife, and the CEA board can directly influence the outcome.

Chugach Electric Association is wrapping up their 2020 Board of Director Elections and CEA members have a say!  If you are a CEA customer, your vote can help select the two new board members who will lead the member-owned utility. Board members will play an important role in the utilities’ decision making that will help write the next chapter in the Eklutna River’s story.

Learn more on the full Eklutna River story here

We can’t tell you who to vote for, but we will help you be an informed voter. We’ve compiled the information that we believe may be helpful in understanding each candidate’s approach to bringing salmon back to the Eklutna River. We believe this is the time to seize the opportunity to revive the struggling salmon stream. We hope you do too and will cast an informed ballot as a salmon habitat advocate. 

The following are direct excerpts from the Chugach Electric Candidate Forum hosted May 14th by Alaska Public Interest Research Group.  You can watch the entire forum here

Please note that this is just a glimpse of the candidate and a brief look at their comments while answering a multiple part, multiple issue question. 

Question: “There is a recent proposal to convert the railbelt to 100% renewable energy by converting Eklutna to a pumped hydro battery*, which would provide all storage necessary for that conversion and restore the salmon run, a requirement Chugach Electric Association is obliged to address in the short term, which would ultimately reduce rates. How familiar are each of you with that proposal?  And what issues do you see with it? What else would you like to see with the Eklutna River restoration? “

Board Candidate – Brad Authier (Time – 1:18:20) 

“Eklutna is going to be evaluated. There is a study that will be underway next year that was obligated a long time ago so that will be looking at mitigation measures and how to make that work as far as what else you’d like to see with the Eklutna River restoration. Personally, with my environmental background, I am looking forward to the outcome of that study, which is probably a year and a half out for some draft findings, and to see what that study determines is [appropriate]. It might be mitigation measures. That study needs to balance the different uses of Eklutna water from the drinking water source for a lot of the Municipality of Anchorage, to the power that is being generated, to the salmon and the habitat.” 

Board Candidate – Sam Cason (Time – 1:22:22) 

“As for Eklutna mitigation, the Eklutna dam that was built in 1929 before anyone had a thought of environmental conservation was deadbeat from before 1960 until [2018] when it was finally taken out.  As the person who posted the question noted, it’s an obligation Chugach has. Really the question is do it sooner or do it later? Should we delay until the last possible moment? We started this meeting with a land acknowledgment and it’s time for us to take notice of the societal impact. That’s part of the triple bottom line, right? What are the societal impacts of the decisions the board makes? And we need to do the right thing sooner rather than being forced to do it later. So, we need a water sharing agreement that restores realistic stream flow and we need to do it promptly and without further ado.” 

Board Candidate – Mark Wiggin (Time – 1:22:35) 

“There is the ability to do a stream flow split at the top and use some of that water for stream flow restoration to address those issues about salmon and recreating the estuary.  And I fully get that, fully support that.”  

Board Candidate – Mitchell Roth (Time – 1:25:58) 

“And to bring the whole concept to a simpler idea. We need to stop competing over the water that’s available from the natural watershed. The concept of pumped hydro is a completely different concept that represents a closed system and is limited only by the amount of water you can find to pump uphill using wind energy. We need to enlarge the water source for Eklutna Lake by pumping it uphill using renewable energy to accomplish that and then there is more water for all/both? of the uses and we both can restore flow in the Eklutna River, we can increase the power production, and we can also continue to enjoy the recreational opportunities. Eklutna is a fantastic area and the next board of directors is going to have a chance to direct that study. So, I’d like to be a part of it and be able to have us look at all these responsibilities.” 

More can be learned about the candidates by watching the entire Chugach Electric Candidate Forum here or visiting the candidate profiles and statements on the Chugach Electric Association website.   

Our partners in the Eklutna River Restoration Coalition, the Alaska Center, sent a candidate questionnaire to CEA Board Candidates that included a specific question on Eklutna River restoration – Mark Wiggin and Mitchell Roth have given permission for their responses to be made public and you can view their respective comments by clicking on their names. 

Fortunately, voting is the easy part, all you have to do is click here

*Unfamiliar with the Eklutna hydro battery proposal?  The concept of the Eklutna battery is to maximize use of Eklutna water to recycle its use for hydropower by pumping it back up hill with wind power.  This would create additional renewable energy and energy storage and free up water for drinking and salmon. At this point, the Eklutna hydro battery is an idea that is gaining traction. You can learn more here.  Meanwhile, the mitigation process for the Eklutna Hydropower Project is underway. 2020 will be an important year in shaping its direction. 

By Eric Booton.