Water Research Program

Volunteers collect water quality samples near the mouth of the Kenai River.

“It is now universally accepted that water is an essential primary natural resource upon which nearly all social and economic activities and ecosystem functions depend.”

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015

For more information about our water research program, please scroll down to explore individual projects or contact Benjamin Meyer.

Water is at the core of everything we do. It not only defines us as an organization, but the waters of the Kenai Peninsula literally and figuratively connect us with our communities and the resources and people we work for. The Kenai Watershed Forum maintains a comprehensive water research program that revolves around a fundamental understanding – and sustainability – of water quality and water quantity on the Kenai Peninsula and beyond. From hydrocarbon research to flow monitoring to wetland ecosystem assessments, our knowledge about water and its role in our communities is critical to our mission.

Education effort by Kenai Watershed Forum to increase awareness of potential watershed pollution.

Project Highlights

Kenai River Baseline Water Quality Monitoring

Good water quality is essential for a healthy environment and society. The Kenai Watershed Forum has monitored the water quality of the Kenai River watersheds twice a year (once in the spring and once in the summer) since 2000; this is not an easy task and certainly one we could not accomplish alone. Thanks to the partner list below, we now have a comprehensive and growing understanding of the water quality in our backyard, something we can be proud to pass on to the next generation of water quality sampling volunteers!

Below is a list of program partners that are providing in-kind and/or financial support with baseline sampling for 2023:

KWF researchers collect data on the Kenai River
A volunteer recording water quality data.
Analytica employee checking water quality samples at the Soldotna Waste Water Treatment Plant for transport to Anchorage for analysis

The data from this sampling effort can be accessed by contacting Environmental Scientist Benjamin Meyer.

Comprehensive Baseline Water Quality Report

A comprehensive review of water quality data from this project was published in 2007 and in 2016:

In 2023, a new comprehensive review of water quality data from 2000 – 2023 is in progress

Project Map

Use the interactive map below to view our project monitoring sites

View full-width map

Hydrocarbon Research

Over 200 2-stroke motors being recycled as part of the Motor Buy Back program in 2008.
Kenai River dipnetting boat traffic. Photo courtesy of Alaska Dispatch News.
USFWS volunteer collecting water quality data.

Water samples collected on the lower Kenai River from 2000-2005 showed concentrations of total aromatic hydrocarbons (TAH) that exceeded state water quality standards for freshwater fish and other aquatic life during the peak fishing period in July. As a result, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) placed a 19-mile segment of the lower Kenai River on the state’s 2006 Clean Water Act (CWA) section 303(d) list of impaired waters for petroleum hydrocarbons, oils and grease. The primary source of the hydrocarbons was unburned gasoline released from older, two-stroke boat motors used to access the sport and personal use fisheries. The Kenai Watershed Forum led a group of concerned watershed stakeholders to join forces to target the source through public outreach, partnering with Kenaitze Indian Tribe creating motor buy-back program, and new regulations. TAH levels dropped significantly and now meet water quality standards, prompting DEC to remove the lower Kenai River from the CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters in 2010; there have been no measured exceedances of state water quality standards for TAH since then.

This chart shows the actual measured difference in gasoline pollution before (2007) and after (2008) clean motor regulations.

Stream and Air Temperature Monitoring

KWF employee checking stream temperature at Quartz Creek.

Led by our friends at Cook Inletkeeper, the Kenai Watershed Forum has participated in stream and air temperature monitoring since 2009. Stream temperature is a critical piece in a sustainable salmon life cycle. As our population and temperatures rise on the Kenai Peninsula it is important that we monitor temperatures to ensure viable salmon habitat remains intact and that we find ways to grow in harmony with our salmon populations. Find out more about this important research and its findings here. The Kenai Watershed Forum is currently monitoring stream temperature at six sites selected from Cook Inletkeeper’s research: Beaver Creek, Crooked Creek, Funny River, Slikok Creek, Moose River, and Soldotna Creek.

Turbidity Monitoring

From 2008-2010, the Kenai Watershed Forum monitored turbidity at several sites on the lower Kenai River. The objectives of this three-year study were to:

  1. Observe and determine key characteristics of turbidity in the lower Kenai River.
  2. To collect relevant data to define baseline conditions for turbidity in the lower Kenai River.
  3. To analyze how often, if ever, AK Department of Environmental Conservation water quality standards for turbidity were exceeded at each sampling location.
Kenai River mile 8.5 field monitoring site
Kenai River mile 11.5 (near Eagle Rock) field monitoring site.

Monitoring has led to a better understanding of turbidity levels in the lower Kenai River and the establishment of baseline conditions. Based on analysis of data from this project, the Kenai Watershed Forum found evidence that state turbidity standards were exceeded on several occasions. Analysis also revealed a strong correlation between high boat traffic and elevated turbidity. The results of this study are intended to assist river managers in making informed decisions regarding human use of the river with respect to established water quality standards.

Map depicting th location of two types of turbidity sampling locations. These types include fixed monitoring stations (FMS, continuous monitoring) and transects (TRANS, periodic reactionary monitoring).

Stream Discharge

Edgar monitoring flow on Ptarmigan Creek on the Kenai Peninsula near Moose Pass, Alaska.

Understanding flow is critical to sustaining our water resources and the Kenai Watershed Forum has been monitoring flow on numerous salmon bearing streams on the Kenai Peninsula since 2000. We believe our ability to protect anadromous water habitat and the fish and wildlife that depend on them is only as good as our knowledge about water. To understand water we collect and analyze data, and flow data is at the top of our priority list.

KWF researcher collecting flow data from Soldotna Creek, Soldotna, Alaska.
KWF employee collecting flow data from Soldotna Creek, Soldotna, Alaska.

Far too many streams and rivers lack quality data like flow, which makes it difficult for resource managers to make fundamental decisions regarding our understanding of fish and wildlife habitat, how habitat naturally changes through time and how our impact as humans (i.e. development) can be minimized to protect habitat. The Kenai Watershed Forum strives to collect and maintain a comprehensive understanding of our water resources in hopes of better informing our decision makers as they face more and more difficult decisions.

With funding and support from the Alaska EPSCoR program and AKSSF the Kenai Watershed Forum is currently monitoring flow at the following locations on the Kenai Peninsula: Beaver Creek, Ptarmigan Creek, Russian River and Slikok Creek.

Flow monitoring on Slikok Creek in Soldotna, Alaska.

Bacteria Monitoring

KWF has monitored fecal coliform and enterococci bacteria levels at Kenai public beaches since 2010. Samples were collected in order to supply the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation with important data related to fluctuations in bacteria levels throughout the summer, including during the public use of these beaches during the high-traffic Kenai River Personal Use Fishery.

Access KWF’s Kenai River beach bacteria reports and data below:

2010-2014 Kenai Beach Sampling Assessment

2012-2013 Kenai Beach Bacteria Monitoring Report

2018-2019 Kenai Beach Bacteria Monitoring Report

2020 Kenai Beach Bacteria Monitoring Report

BEACON 2.0 – Beach Advisory Online Notifications

Kenai Beach Bacteria Data in the EPA Water Quality Portal (Click on “Advanced”, then click “Download” at page bottom

Concentrated fish waste can lead to large flocks of gulls and increased bacteria levels in beach waters due to gull excrement.

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