Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Chena Slough Update, Part 1

Last Summer, I wrote a couple of blog posts about a body of water very near and dear to me known as the Chena Slough. Chena Slough Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. As Winter in North Pole, Alaska winds down and the sun returns, it's time to start thinking about open water and weeds.

Chena River Sheefish

The State's Department of Natural Resources and the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District have been busy all winter putting permits in place to address the weed situation. A water weed, known as Elodea, invaded the Chena Slough some time around 2009, and has since taken over a large part of the lower 10 miles of the waterway. My house sits near the end of this stretch of elodea infested water.  Last summer, the State made notice that they intended to use chemical herbicides to treat the slough. The researcher in me started digging, and I was none too happy. I use this water to irrigate my garden, lawn, and trees. I pipe slough water to my chickens. My bees collect 5-10 gallons of water a day for their use in making honey. I could see no way in which a chemical laden Chena Slough was compatible with my lifestyle, nor those of my many neighbors who enjoy our very, very short summer along the slough.

This week, I met a man who changed my mind. John Morton is the manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, an area of Alaska that covers nearly 2 million acres and is home to bears, moose, Dall sheep, caribou and many types of salmon and other fish and wildlife. John found elodea [you'll want to click this link!] growing in three (of the thousands!) of lakes he manages. He took matters into his own hands to clean them up. John is now worried that if other areas of the state don't clean up their elodea, he'll get it right back...the gift that keeps on giving.

Two Chena Sloughs

The Chena Slough that the State's aquatic weed specialists see:

Alaska Public Media
 The Chena Slough that I see:

My Back Yard

But, the slough is dying. Cut off from its headwaters in the '70s for flood control, it is now a groundwater seepage system interrupted by culverts, beaver dams, and fallen trees. The once rocky bottom has increasing filled in with silty muck that provides prime growing habitat for any aquatic plant. The Chena Slough used to periodically clean itself when floods occurred, but now the culverts and other flow impediments block this from occurring, as we see here during high water last September:

Persinger Bridge Looking Upstream

All of this debris, which is mostly dead elodea, becomes trapped and when the water level falls, it becomes a new layer of muck on the bottom of the slough.

A Myopic View of the Problem

If the Chena Slough is treated with an herbicide, and the water rises to a high level as it does 2-5 times every summer, won't it kill all the trees, shrubs, grass, and plants that line the banks of the Chena Slough?

My Backyard!  Flooded.
 The Chena Slough, over its banks, floods my rhubarb patch, raspberries, salmonberries, cranberries and many acres of riparian zone filled with willows and alders...all prime Moose habitat. What damage will this fragile ecosystem experience when covered in water treated with herbicide? What will it do to my backyard?

Unfortunately, no one knows. The herbicide label says "trees may experience chlorosis." And also indicates many non-target species may be harmed. Fortunately, this extensive flooding only occurs on the lower mile or so of the Chena Slough, not the entire 10-mile stretch where elodea is present.

Flooded Trees

Public Meetings

This week the State held a series of public meetings to discuss the herbicide plan [96 pages!]. John from the Kenai made a really good case for everyone just sucking it up and ripping off the Band-Aid. But the "master plan" is full of holes.

While I sometimes felt as if I was in a Simpson's episode, the meetings were a success from my (myopic) perception. I got to see the people who are behind this "evil" plan, face-to-face, and shake their hands. I could see in their eyes that they were concerned. Something that does not always translate in a Bcc'd email.

Well, there was this one guy, a SePRO rep.  He really should think about going into the monorail business, it's a much easier crowd! [I jest!]


Were you sent here by the Devil?

  -- No, good sir, I'm on the level!

The unique challenges of the Chena Slough not completely addressed in this plan:

  • Seasonal flow patterns and disruptions
  • Drinking water wells
  • Organic gardening
  • Testing of well water and irrigation water
  • Dangers of well water contamination
  • Public perception

But, rather than simply pointing this out or making a silly flyer, I think I've come up with a plan that will satisfy everyone, especially Mr. John Morton.

Tommorrow - Part Two: A Plan for De-weeding the Chena Slough.


  1. Sitting on the edge of my seat eating cooked/cooled/fried potatoes.

  2. Can't the elodea be harvested and used for something?

    1. It makes great garden compost. I've been using it the last couple years to block weeds in between the rows of my garden, like lots of people do with grass clippings.

      I was wondering if it could be used for animal food, like hay. If I had a sheep or goat or something, I'd try. Not sure the nutritional value, but it would be easy to harvest with the right equipment.