Susitna Valley Lakes & Rivers
Susitna Valley lakes and rivers are recreational hot spots for many Alaskans who want to boat, fish, access their remote cabins, and relax. Boaters come from all over the Valley and Anchorage to jet ski, waterski, fish, and boat on Big Lake. The Little Susitna River is a popular sport fishing location during chinook and coho salmon season. The Deshka River is also an important chinook salmon fishing area, and is also where many boaters have remote cabins.
Unfortunately, some of these recreational boating activities have negatively affected water quality in these waterbodies. High levels of petroleum hydrocarbons have been found in a few of these lakes and rivers, and increased turbidity is of concern in narrow river channels. These pollutants can negatively impact fish health, habitat and behavior. We know that some of the more popular and easy to access locations have seen the most impacts, but we hope to educate all boaters on all Susitna Valley waterbodies about how they can do their part to protect clean water through clean boating practices.
At Risk Waterbodies
Did you know that Big Lake was listed as polluted by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)? Studies in 2004, 2005 and in 2009 showed high levels of petroleum hydrocarbons – compounds that come from gas, oil, and other petroleum products. DEC compiled a list of frequently asked questions about hydrocarbon pollution at the public's request. Through a series of meetings, the community of Big Lake created an action plan to ensure Big Lake is healthy for our families and children. You can read the studies, as well as the minutes from community meetings here (link).
Similar sampling on the Little Susitna River from 2007-2010 revealed high hydrocarbon levels on this waterbody also, in addition to increased turbidity. The average engine horsepower observed during these studies was 65 hp, but ranged from 25 to 225! Large boats with powerful engines produce large wakes which cause riverbank erosion and increase the turbidity of the water. Alaska DEC has listed Big Lake and the Little Su as high priority waterbodies and as such will continue to receive water quality assessments and evaluation of actions needed to protect or improve water quality. Though the Deshka River has not yet been listed, it is important to continue outreach to encourage boaters to continue using clean boating practices. Since people from all over Southcentral Alaska travel to the Susitna Valley to recreate, it is in everyone's best interest to work towards pollution prevention on these and other high-priority/high-use waters.
Since 2010, Cook Inletkeeper and partners have been educating boaters and fishermen in the Susitna Valley on the importance of clean boating practices. We partnered with the Big Lake Water Quality group, as well as local partner Mat-Su Conservation services to develop a Clean Boating campaign to engage boaters in keeping local lakes and rivers clean, including Big Lake, the Little Su, and Deshka River.
Our Clean Boating campaign has been promoting clean boating practices through several education and outreach strategies. Staff, volunteers and community partners have handed out clean boating kits at boat launches around the Valley. Each free kit includes oil absorbent pads, bilge socks, tips for clean fueling, stickers, and a variety of other resources to help boaters reduce spills and leaks while enjoying their time on the water. You may also have heard us on local radio stations encouraging boaters to do their part to help reduce hydrocarbon pollution. We also conduct outreach at a variety of public events, such as the Family Fall Fishing Derby at Burkeshore Marina, as well as the Mat-Su Outdoorsman Show and the Great Alaska Outdoorsman Show.
We are currently working towards developing a two-stroke buy-back program in the Susitna Valley that incorporates input from boaters, local businesses, agencies, and the Mat-Su Borough. Check back for updates!