Conservation TROUT Magazine

What 2020 holds for restoring Alaska's Eklutna River

Lower Eklutna Dam before removal
The Lower Eklutna Dam is gone, but the river is still starved for water.

With great excitement, last year we doubled down on the revitalization of Alaska’s Eklutna River.  We see this work as a unique chance to return salmon in historical numbers to a river of great cultural significance to the native village of Eklutna and potentially create a new sportfishing opportunity.

The year was dominated by furthering relationships with partners, engaging in the process to help reduce the impact of historic hydroelectric projects, and educating Southcentral Alaska anglers and residents.  We were pleased to receive positive reception and vigor from supporters for this endeavor. If you live in Southcentral Alaska and want to help restore Eklutna River salmon runs, click here.  

With all this underway and more on the horizon, it’s shaping up to be a busy year ahead in the pursuit to restore salmon runs on the Eklutna River. Here are some standouts from 2019 and what to keep on your radar for 2020. 

2019 Highlights 

  • Important restoration activities were recommended for the Eklutna by the Watershed and Natural Resource Advisory Commission, a scientific body that makes recommendations to the Anchorage Assembly, in October 2019.  After a series of work sessions attended by Trout Unlimited and partners, the commission adopted a resolution that included flushing flows to mobilize stranded sediment, a commitment to return water as part of mitigation, and establishing fish passage around the upper dam for access to Eklutna Lake.   
Screen shot from Eric Booton’s interview with KTUU.
  • KTUU ran a story on the Eklutna River with TU Staff Member, Eric Booton, in an interview at the upper Eklutna Dam  
  • A new film telling the history of the river, chronicling the 2017/2018 lower dam removal, and highlighting future needs to rebuild the salmon fishery was previewed by attendees of the 2019 Mat-Su Salmon Symposium. The film was created by Alaskanist Stories and made possible by Patagonia, Trout Unlimited, The Conversation Fund, and others. 
  • We created the storymap, “Bringing Back the Eklutna River.” This helps visually demonstrate the current use of water in the Eklutna watershed. The poster was featured at the 2019 Mat-Su Salmon Symposium and will be utilized for future outreach and education. Check it out and share! 
  • The utility companies who own the Eklutna Hydropower Project, which eroded salmon runs on the river, are required to make up for the impacts of the project on fish and wildlife in the coming years. In order to fulfill this obligation, the companies began by hosting two stakeholder meetings in 2019 to review the existing scientific body on the Eklutna River and consider data gaps. Trout Unlimited participated in these 2019 stakeholder meetings and will continue to participate in future meetings. 
  • Hundreds of Alaskans and anglers shared their support for returning water to the river for fish with the utility companies.  To ensure we a healthy and productive future for the Eklutna River we need demonstrable support— share yours today

A look ahead at 2020 

  • The world premiere of the film Eklutna: Restoring a River, is currently being planned by Native Village of Eklutna for Feb. 18, at the Anchorage Museum. Details will be available shortly. Additional screenings will be hosted throughout Southcentral Alaska. 
  • In February, the Anchorage Assembly is anticipated to host an Eklutna River Restoration Project Update Work Session to hear updates on the mitigation process, consider the river’s needs, and support further action to restore the salmon fishery. 
  • Utility Companies will continue to prepare a budget and outline the research studies that will guide their mitigation efforts. They are expected to submit these plans for approval by Gov. Dunleavy near the end of 2020. 
  • With growing support and new tools at our disposal, we will continue to educate area residents and anglers about the inspiring opportunity to bring the Eklutna River back to life.

This year is sure to be important when it comes to ensuring a healthy and productive future for the Eklutna River and we hope you’ll be a part of it! To learn more about the Eklutna River and view helpful background information, visit the Trout Unlimited website and click here to be a voice for returning water to the river for fish