About Cook Inlet

Cangaciq, Tikahtnu

A beautiful place with many names, Cook Inlet, Cangaciq, and Tikahtnu all describe this region’s expansive watershed. The Inlet is currently named after Captain James Cook, an English colonizer who mapped and explored this area in 1778. Cangaciq is the Sugpiaq/Alutiiq placename for the Inlet and is thought to come from the word for “blue.” The Dena’ina word for this area is Tikahtnu, which translates directly to “Big Water River.” Big Water River speaks to the dynamic motion of the water as it floods in and out with dramatic tidal ferocity. From the Susitna River to Augustine Island, Cook Inlet with its diverse names and ecosystems encompass an equally diverse and vibrant history.

About Cook Inlet - Mount Redoubt
splash graphic

This watershed we call home is truly a vigorous place where people and ideas ebb and flow and through it all Cook Inletkeeper is steadfast in the waters like kelp dancing in the tides.

Our Watershed

The Cook Inlet watershed is a spectacular ecosystem covering 47,000 square miles of Southcentral Alaska. The watershed stretches from the top of the Denali mountain range to the south side of Kachemak Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, encompassing some of the most unique and productive habitats Alaska has to offer, including alpine tundra, coastal rainforest, estuaries, marine waters, wetlands, and expansive glacial and non-glacial river systems. Melting snow and ice from Denali, the Chugach Mountains, and the Aleutian Range drain into rivers such as the mighty Susitna, the Matanuska, and the Kenai, which feed the bountiful waters of Cook Inlet.
Cook Inlet Watershed Map

We all need clean water

The watershed supports a rich fabric of life, including brown bears, black bears, caribou, moose, wolves, beavers, coyotes, bald eagles, sandhill cranes and other migratory birds, sea otters, sea lions, orcas, humpbacks and the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale. With one of the highest concentrations of public lands in the nation, the Cook Inlet watershed is home to:

  • Denali National Park
  • Katmai National Park
  • Kenai Fjords National Park
  • Lake Clark National Park
  • Chugach National Forest
  • Kenai and Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuges
  • Four state parks and sanctuaries, including the world-famous McNeil River Bear Sanctuary; and seven Critical Habitat areas.

Two-thirds of Alaska’s population lives within the Cook Inlet watershed and depends on its clean waters and healthy habitats for their livelihood. Alaska Native villages pursue a subsistence lifestyle that is centuries old, supplying up to 90% of the villagers’ diet. With five species of wild Pacific salmon, herring, scallops, halibut, and other bottom fish, Cook Inlet boasts some of the most productive fisheries in Alaska. Each year, nearly one million visitors from around the world venture to Cook Inlet to experience its magnificent beauty.

Our energy landscape is on the cusp of rapid change. Cook Inlet served as a frontier in Alaska’s oil and gas industry, employing residents, and providing energy locally and globally since the 1960s. Today, eleven offshore platforms continue to operate in Upper Cook Inlet, along with a small number of onshore sites and facilities on both sides of the Inlet. Recent interest in new offshore lease sales in federal and state waters of Cook Inlet has been tepid. Fortunately, Cook Inlet enjoys significant renewable energy potential. An 11-turbine wind farm on Fire Island near Anchorage has the capacity to power 7,000 homes, and is likely to expand. Other large privately-owned wind farms are in financing and permitting stages. Solar energy, increasingly competitive, is being installed by more home- and business-owners. Geothermal and tidal energy are increasingly viable, with multiple active leases and demonstration projects.

In concert with this organizational history, Cook Inletkeeper acknowledges that the Inlet and surrounding lands have been home to the Dena’ina, Sugpiaq/Alutiiq people of Alaska’s Southcentral region for thousands of years, long before the occupations of settler culture or the “Waterkeeper” concept. Indigenous stewardship and relationships to traditional lands and ways of life are essential matters of any developing environmental or economic solution for Alaska’s future generations.