Friday March 24, 2023

Alaska Sporting Journal

In 1929, a 70-foot-tall, 100-foot-wide concrete dam was built blocking the journey of all five species of wild Alaska salmon to their native spawning grounds. In 1955, a second dam was built on the river roughly 8 miles upstream at the outlet of a lake, so every drop of water could be diverted through a nearby mountain and out a hydroelectric power plant.

This is the brief modern history of the Eklutna River – traditionally known as Idlughetnu – a glacier-fed stream just northeast of Anchorage. It likely comes as little surprise to you, but after losing access to habitat and the flow of water, wild salmon of the Eklutna have suffered immensely. The Dena’ina Eklutna peoples who the river has supported since time immemorial have also lost a significant source of food and cultural tradition.

When the second dam was built on the Eklutna River, the downstream lower dam was abandoned. In 2018, more than 60 years later, Eklutna, Inc., The Conservation Fund and the Native Village of Eklutna successfully removed the defunct dam, knocking down a significant hurdle for wild salmon and setting the stage (Alaska Sporting Journal, April 2021) for fish to return to their upstream home once again.

However, since no water is allowed to flow past the dam at the outlet of Eklutna Lake – causing the river to run dry – and even if there was water there would be no way for fish to swim past that remaining dam, Eklutna River salmon still face serious obstacles.

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