The Susitna River below Denali and the Alaska Range
I have been meaning to get a post on this subject together for a while now, but for a host of reasons, I am a little late in doing so.
As many here might be aware, the State of Alaska is pushing forward a proposal to build a massive hydro project (read dam) on the Susitna River, which is quite literally in my back yard. They (the state) have tried and failed at this twice in the past, most recently in the 1980’s when they had gotten as far as to apply for the federal permit. They withdrew the application after a major upwelling in opposition from the many local communities and residents that would be negatively impacted by such a project.
I am probably the least politically informed, politically active person you will ever encounter. As such, I will not be able to give the various issues, players, and behind the scenes politics of this issue much in the way of an eloquent description so bear with me. Because this issue is so near and dear to my heart, I have joined a local coalition that is taking the lead on forming the anti-dam movement and in doing so, we are bringing together a number of local, national, and global organizations. We recently received a substantial grant from Patagonia to help with the anti-dam campaign. We have 700+ members and the momentum has been growing over the course of the last few months.
We all know that dams are bad, but the one that the state is proposing at the Susitna-Wantana location is a particularly bad one. The Susitna dam, if built, would be the 5th tallest of nearly 850,000 dams on the planet. The Susitna is a glacially fed, extremely silty river. As such, very optimistic estimates put it useful life at 50 years although many think it will be less. Nearly all of the Susitna once great salmon runs are in a pretty steady state of decline. The proposed reservoir would fill a valley that is one of the last strongholds for threatened moose, caribou, and bear populations. Downstream of the dam, fisheries issues aside, the flows would be greatly reduced in the summer and greatly increased in the winter. Hundreds if not thousands of part and full time residents, homesteaders, and recreational users would be negatively impacted by these flow changes and their access, in some cases, might change entirely if not become impossible. The proposed location of the dam sits immediately adjacent to the Denali fault, one of the largest and least stable faults on the continent. Should the dam burst, my town and many others up and down the valley would be wiped out. The list of negative impacts goes on and on. Susitna Rainbow
Seeing as how the fisheries issues are probably of most interest to the crowd here, the Susitna stocks of both resident and anadromous fish are already in bad shape. The kings are the worst off and this year the state announced an emergency order to functionally limit king season in the Susitna valley to catch and release. Kings and sockeye spawn above the proposed dam location. The current plan does not include any form of fish passage, which of course mean that these strains will be forever gone. The impacts below the dam for downriver stocks are largely unknown, but institutional knowledge of course indicates that dams are never good for fish. The state in its arrogance, is actually pitching the message that fishing will get better and fish numbers will improve as a result of the dam, which humorous at best.
There is far too much to convey here. For those interested in more lengthy discussion of the issues, check out the Coalition For Susitna Dam Alternatives web site (the local coalition I am working with) which can be found here:http://susitnadamalternatives.org/
So, where are things at and what needs doing. The Alaska Energy Authority is the group that has been tasked (by the state) to ram this project down our throats and they are doing a fine job of it. They have applied for a federal permit and asked that the process be expedited (2 years instead of 5 years) in a blatant attempt to make sure all of the needed studies, comment periods, and research are not given due diligence.
The group that evaluates these applications and grants permits is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC. FERC is accepting public comments on the proposal through May 31, which is only a few days away.
Even if it is just a one line comment saying that you oppose dams and/or destruction of fish and wildlife habitat, please take a moment to submit a comment.
Here is how:
1. Click on this link FERC eComment Page
2. Click on“eComment: Does not require eregistration” at the top of the page.
3. On the next page, fill in the “Authorize eComment” boxes, then submit
4. FERC will send an email to your inbox with a link for you to click on that will take you to a page with your name, email, and phone already on it.
5. Under this, you’ll find instructions to “Enter Docket Number.”
• Type in P-14241-000 then click “Search.”
• This will appear in the next line: “P-14241-000 Information and invitation regarding the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.”
• Click on the blue +symbol under “Select” and wait a few seconds for the docket number and name to appear as the “Selected Docket.”
6. Now you are FINALLY ready to type your comments, and then click on “Send Comment.” Banks of the Big Su at Talkeetna
Additionally, I have been tasked with compiling the membership/mailing list for the coalition. We have a newsletter that keeps people updated in the process and we announce “action alert” type items like this public comment period, meetings, and other correspondence opportunities all for the purpose of rallying support for the anti-dam movement. If any of you care to help us out in the process, either send me a PM or subscribe via the coalitions web site ( Mailing List Sign Up
) above and I will add you to the list.
Again these types of political processes are pretty far outside of my comfort zone and I apologize for the surface level nature of much of what I am able to describe. I have boiled the issue down to a couple of key concepts, those being that the dam threatens the things I love, will ruin part of what brought me here, and it creates a legitimate risk to me, my family and friends. Dams are certainly not the answer, they aren’t sustainable, and they create far more problems than they solve. Please help us keep this one from carrying on the long legacy of failure.