Eklutna Dam is gone, but water diversion is still keeping salmon from thriving

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - For the better part of a century, a 61-foot dam on the Eklutna River blocked the passage of salmon. Last year, with widespread community support, the dam was torn down, raising an expectation that salmon would soon swim up the river.

The Lower Eklutna Dam, which was removed in Aug. 2018.

But one year later, there’s still no salmon. That’s because upstream, the water from Eklutna Lake is diverted from the river's natural course.

“Once that dam got removed, I think myself and lots of other people here, the Native Village of Eklutna, as well as anglers in the Mat-Su and Anchorage area were really excited about the opportunity to help be a part of what stands to be an awesome opportunity to help repair a river in need,” said Eric Booton with Trout Unlimited Alaska.

Most of the diverted goes through the Eklutna hydropower plant, and some is used for Anchorage's drinking water. It's clean, fresh water, that is in high demand from both people and fish.

“Behind us we have a massive glacial fed lake which is great habitat for fish, however just downstream of us we have salmon stream that historically has had all five species of salmon that is running dry out of the lake, and that's the problem,” said Booton.

Several stakeholders including the utility companies, the State of Alaska, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed an agreement in 1991 that plotted a timeline for mitigating damage to fish habitat along the river.

The agreement is also relatively broad, and that's one reason Eric Booton with Trout Unlimited is staying engaged.

“The grand vision is to have a healthy Eklutna River that's healthy and full of fish,” said Booton.

He and others are hopeful that if everything goes according to plan, the river should be flowing once again in 2027 when the mitigation work begins.

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