OPINION: Eklutna — at what cost, to whom?

Three points of view have recently appeared here about restoration of the Eklutna River: those of the power utilities, a national nonprofit and the Native Village of Eklutna. It is great to see such engagement on the topic, with the public comment period now underway through Feb. 17 and three public meetings set for Palmer on Jan. 16, Anchorage on Jan. 17 and Eagle River on Jan. 18.

What has been missing from the commentary to date is a discussion of the costs of the alternatives put forward — and who pays for them. The Anchorage Assembly is mindful of our obligations to municipal taxpayers and ratepayers while balancing community needs for reliable energy and safe drinking water. We also take seriously our formal government-to-government relationship with the Native Village of Eklutna.

The Municipality of Anchorage is the majority stakeholder in the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project, along with Chugach Electric and Matanuska Electric. Collectively, we have a legal obligation to mitigate 74 years of impacts on sockeye salmon that resulted from the construction of the Eklutna Project in 1955. As part of the agreement to transfer ownership of the project from the federal government to local control, the parties signed the 1991 Eklutna Fish and Wildlife Agreement, which sets forth requirements for the protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife and the protection of cultural resources. Restoration of the Eklutna River for salmon habitat is not just a nice to have, it is a legal requirement of the 1991 Agreement and something that is supposed to have been in the works over the past 30 years. We are now in the midst of a mitigation process that will chart the course at Eklutna for the next 30 years, and the options have narrowed down to two.

Chugach Electric and Matanuska Electric have put forward a Draft Plan to use the Anchorage Water and Wastewater (AWWU) pipeline to release water into the Eklutna River one mile downstream of Eklutna Lake. The $57 million price tag for the “AWWU Portal” option would be passed on through electricity rate increases and property tax hikes. Customers of Chugach Electric and Matanuska Electric will see their rates rise by roughly 1%, and Anchorage residents will see property tax increases of about $2 per year on a $400,000 home. Despite these costs, this option will not restore the river.

The Native Village of Eklutna and other community groups have proposed to remove the Eklutna Lake dam within the next decade to allow fish to reach their spawning grounds. This “Community Alternative” would only take effect once new sources of renewable energy are installed in Southcentral Alaska. The Conservation Fund and Trout Unlimited have already pledged to pay the full cost of dam removal. For at least the next decade, there would be no loss of hydropower production at Eklutna, and there would be no impact on ratepayers and taxpayers.

A wide variety of other options to repair the Eklutna River were evaluated, including retrofitting the existing dam with a fish ladder and replacing the dam with a fish-friendly design. The price tags for these other alternatives ranged into the hundreds of millions of dollars, with uncertain benefits to salmon. Doing nothing, as some have advocated, is not a legal option.

Because the Assembly represents the majority owner in the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project, we are closely watching this issue. We are mindful of potential impacts on ratepayers and taxpayers. We are aware of rising energy costs. We are focused on the health of a major waterway in the Municipality that provides an irreplaceable supply of our drinking water.


The formal policy of the Municipality of Anchorage is to restore the Eklutna River fully. We endorse the Community Alternative because it best protects ratepayers, taxpayers, our drinking water, salmon, and the Eklutna Dena’ina.

The next chance to weigh in on the fate of the Eklutna River won’t come around for another 30 years. We urge you to participate in this public process now in person or by submitting written comments to info@eklutnahydro.com.

Christopher Constant chairs the Anchorage Assembly and represents District 1, North Anchorage.

Meg Zaletel represents District 4, Midtown Anchorage, on the Anchorage Assembly and serves as vice chair.

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