The ill-fated 1408 project to protect the Delta Clearwater Watershed has finally come to completion as crews last week finished removal of the bypass road used to access the remediation project from Mile 1408 Alaska Highway.
The project began over 30 years ago when the Salcha Delta Soil and Water Conservation District wanted to better understand the threat to the Clearwater River Watershed caused by flooding and sedimentation, according to a statement from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that has been overseeing the project. NRCS became involved in the project in 1992 when they were requested to “initiate a small watershed planning project,” according to NRCS.
The Clearwater River, which is generally ice free throughout the winter, originates from springs surfacing in the Clearwater Bog. Periodic flooding has always occurred in the Delta Clearwater River Watershed and in 1982, an undocumented staining of the Clearwater River raised concerns over potential impacts on the River. The 1987 the Granite Creek wildfire also brought concerns for the river to the forefront.
A 1987 study concluded that flooding and erosion threatened the river’s fishery habitat – Coho salmon and Arctic Grayling – and suggested possible solutions. In 1989, a major flood event occurred that delivered an estimated 16,800 tons of sediment into the Clearwater River.
A plan was developed and approved in 1995 to construct infiltration areas, in 1998 it was amended to a large infiltration basin as the preferred alternative to the series of spreading diversions. Construction began in 1999.
An engineering investigation was initiated after flood waters filled the basin in the summer of 2000 and problems were noted in 2001. Infiltration testing was done along the entire project and found the infiltration rate was lower than that shown by earlier testing. As a result, a determination was made to stabilize the existing project and discontinue the additional construction in 2003. Funds expended on the project to this point were approximately $3.9 million.
Alternatives were reviewed, including leaving the project as it was and letting natural revegetation take place, to building a dam along the entire project. With no funding available, the project sat idle between 2005 and 2008 and no natural revegetation took place, so that alternative was abandoned. The cost of constructing a damn was higher than anticipated funding, so the decision was made to restore the site to its original condition when funding became available.
Following an environmental assessment in 2008 and 2009, a decision was made to seek funding to restore vegetation on the project. Funding was secured in 2017 and the project put out to bid in early 2018. The contract was awarded to Ahtna Construction, a subsidiary of Ahtna, Inc.
According to a statement released by NRCS, “the remediation project seeks to prevent water flow concentrations and thereby minimize erosion and sediment transport potential during flood events.”
“The project also seeks to re-establish native vegetation on the site as this vegetation is important to keeping flood flows dispersed and minimize erosion across the project site.”
Material for the filling of the previously constructed water basins was hauled to the site and berm rows were removed from local farms and hauled to the site to provide top soil material.
“The basin area was then covered in woody debris and live willow stakes and other shrubs were planted on the site. The purpose of the woody debris was to create microclimates conducive to reestablishing vegetation on the site, capture snow and keep the site from blowing clear in the winter which will help with plant survivability, and to help break up any minor flow concentrations that may develop across the site during a flood event,” NRCS included in its statement.
Following a public presentation on the project where citizens expressed concern over the loss of access to the area for recreation and hunting, NRCS chose to leave the 1408 road in place with additional waterbars to channel waterflows off of the road. NRCS chose to build the waterbars as low as possible to allow access by pickups, ATVs, and other similar vehicles. A parking area was also constructed at the south end of the work area – about two miles from the highway – to allow suitable access for hunters.
Although the area is accessible by some vehicles, motor homes and similar vehicles will have difficulty or may be unable to cross the waterbars. The clearing along each side of the 1408 road has been covered with downed trees to help with revegetation. Most access to areas off of the 1408 road has also been blocked by the trees and rootballs.
An area is available for the parking of RVs and other vehicles that can’t access the long 1408 Road just after entering the project. The area is managed by the soil and water district under and agreement with the State of Alaska.
Although the downed trees are on state land and can be removed for firewood, in an effort to prevent people removing the trees for firewood, NRCS specified that only a limited amount of the trees could be spruce. Most of the downed trees are cottonwood, which isn’t as preferred as other species for firewood.
Delta Wind spoke to several locals that have been out to the project recently and got mixed opinions on the project. Some were pleased that the area is more difficult to transgress, thus eliminating the ease of hunting, while others are unhappy with the loss of the large recreation and trail areas.