Kenai Fjords
A Stern and Rock-Bound Coast: Historic Resource Study
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Chapter 5:

Dams and Diversion Projects

The Kenai Fjords area, which is primarily composed of icefields, cliffs, islands and seacoast, would appear to be a poor location for dams or diversion activity. But drainage management activities have taken place at both ends of the present-day park.

At the southwestern end of the park, northwest of Nuka Bay, the Bradley River and its tributary, Kachemak Creek, emerge from the Nuka and Kachemak glaciers, respectively. For thousands of years these waters flowed into Bradley Lake, and continued down to the head of Kachemak Bay. Few paid any attention to this drainage system until the late 1940s, when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation surveyed potential Alaska dam sites. The Bureau gave the site positive reviews. Then, in January 1950, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report noted that the Bradley Lake area was one of the most favorable sites for hydroelectric development in southcentral Alaska. Four years later, Governor Frank Heintzleman ordered further study of the site. In 1955 the Corps studied the site in more detail, and at its behest, the Bureau of Land Management that August withdrew some 10,000 acres from entry. That withdrawal included much of the Bradley River drainage system. The Corps continued to gather data on the project for the remainder of the decade. [64]

The Bradley Lake Project as proposed in 1961. It was built from 1986 to 1991. Note the dike and diversion channel. F.A. Johnson, Waterpower Resources of the Bradley River Basin.

By 1960, power-development advocates had become convinced that Alaska was on the verge of a power shortage; in order to avoid that scenario, they urged lawmakers to construct the Rampart Dam (on the Yukon River) to provide long-term needs and the Bradley Lake Project as an intermediate facility. [65] Based on those needs, Congress authorized Bradley Lake as part of the Flood Control Act of October 1962; it was the only hydroelectric project in Alaska to be so designated, and it remained in that position for years afterward. The following year the Army Corps applied to withdraw the land for construction purposes, and in 1966 the BLM issued public land orders granting the proposed withdrawal. By this time, however, new low-cost thermal generation had made Bradley Lake less competitive, and as a result, the project languished until the economics of hydropower once again proved advantageous. [66]

Most of the Bradley Lake project history is beyond the scope of this study, both geographically and temporally. Most of the project area is several miles away from the park boundary; as to time, the majority of the environmental studies were conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s, project construction began in 1986, and the dam's power plant began generating electricity during the summer of 1991. [67] The high-water level of Bradley Lake, moreover, lies more than three miles away from the park boundary. What makes the dam's construction activity germane to this study, however, is that project engineers decided to divert a portion of the Nuka River's flow into the Bradley River drainage in order to maximize Bradley Lake's hydroelectric potential. The engineers learned, in the early stages of project planning, that the tongue of nearby Nuka Glacier lay astride a drainage divide, locally called Bradley Pass. Four-fifths of Nuka Glacier's outflow went into the Nuka River during low-flow periods, but during high-flow periods, four-fifths of its outflow went into Bradley River. In order to maximize the flow going into Bradley River, the engineers decided to build a 5-foot dike on the south side of Nuka Pool, which is located at Bradley Pass. The Park Service, appraised of the proposed action, approved the project in April 1985. The agency took that action because studies showed that the diversion would have a minimal effect on the spawning potential of the Nuka River's pink, coho, and chum salmon populations because other tributaries comprised the bulk of Nuka River's flow. [68]

The park's northeastern border is the site of a long-planned hydroelectric project. Soon after World War II, water-development interests recognized that the Resurrection River, a mile or so below its confluence with Paradise Creek, was a potential dam location. In March 1950, therefore, the U.S. Geological Survey declared the area a potential power site and withdrew "all land adjacent to Resurrection River and tributaries below an elevation of 500 feet" upstream from the proposed Resurrection Dam. Land in the Resurrection River valley was thus withdrawn up to a point beyond today's park boundary, near the river's confluence with Moose Creek. During the years which followed, scores of sites (including Bradley Lake, as noted above) were touted by federal agencies, the Alaska Power Authority, and local utilities; none of these entities, however, provided sustained backing for a project in the Resurrection River valley. By 1970, the high cost of developing hydroelectric potential, coupled with the unfavorable findings of more detailed studies, had made the project impractical, so the U.S. Forest Service that year recommended that the classification be revoked. That was never done, but the USGS did not protest the establishment of Kenai Fjords National Park. Today, any chance for hydroelectric development along the Resurrection River is remote. [69]

Soon after the USGS unveiled plans for a Resurrection Dam, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service undertook a small diversion project to restore historical flow levels to the Russian and Resurrection River systems. For scores if not hundreds of years, Summit Creek (just beyond the park's northern boundary) had served as the primary headwaters of the Resurrection River system. But sometime during the early 1950s–probably during the fall of 1951 or the spring of 1952–a flood sufficiently shifted the creek bed that the creek waters started flowing into the upper Russian River system. The creek, which flowed from a glacial tongue, carried a large sediment load and was "seriously polluting" the Russian River, which is a major red salmon stream. The Fish and Wildlife Service, which managed the Russian River fish runs, was concerned about the "increasingly serious" situation. In late 1957, therefore, agency workers drove a D-7 and a D-4 Caterpillar tractor to the area from Seward. They created a dike and diverted Summit Creek back to its former course. After the work was done, the agency left the larger tractor near the dike in case further repairs were needed; the smaller tractor was brought back to Seward. So far as is known, Summit Creek has remained part of the Resurrection River drainage system ever since, and the D-7 "cat" is still at the site. [70]

Summit Creek dike
The Summit Creek dike, taken in 1958, looking southwest. The Fish and Wildlife Service created the dike a year earlier. USF&WS, Cook Inlet Annual Management Report, 1958, 43.

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Last Updated: 26-Oct-2002