Removing A "Deadbeat Dam"

The Eklutna River was once a prolific salmon-producing river that provided a rich subsistence resource to the Eklutna Dena'ina people, who located their village on Cook Inlet’s Knik Arm near the mouth of the Eklutna River. Although the Native Eklutna people are still there, the salmon are greatly diminished, due to a succession of water diversions and hydropower projects which cut off water flow and fish passage in the Eklutna River.

The first major barrier to fish and water on the Eklutna River resulted from construction of the Lower Eklutna River Dam and its associated hydropower plant in 1929. This dam, located in a 300-foot deep steep-walled canyon, was used to divert water into an 1800-foot long tunnel to a powerhouse located along Knik Arm. This facility provided electricity to the City of Anchorage until 1955. 

When the Eklutna Power Project came online in 1955, the Lower Eklutna River hydropower project was abandoned, leaving behind an unmaintained 70-foot tall and 100-foot wide concrete arch diversion dam that quickly filled with sediment. Now, the abandoned diversion dam impounds approximately 230,000 cubic yards of sediment and remains a major impediment to full ecological restoration of the Eklutna River.

Recovery of this important salmon stream habitat is vital to maintaining abundant salmon populations in Knik Arm and Cook Inlet in general.  Cook Inlet supports the largest urban area in the state with over 60 percent of the state-wide population, and fishing pressures on salmon can be high. Additionally, salmon support a wide variety of other wildlife species, including seabirds, marine mammals, and bears.

In 2015, the Eklutna Native Corporation and the Native Village of Eklutna, with the help of The Conservation Fund, began the most ambitious habitat restoration project ever attempted in Alaska by initiating the removal of the long-abandoned Lower Eklutna River Dam and working to restore the Eklutna River. 


In 2015, the Fund’s Senior Representative, Brad Meiklejohn, set out to find a way to restore waterflow and fish passage to the Eklutna River. Brad has worked with the Native Village of Eklutna—the largest landowner in the municipality of Anchorage—for years. They forged a strong partnership during a project with Wells Fargo (see below), and when Brad brought the dam removal idea to the group, the Eklutna Native Corporation and the Village decided to proceed, connecting with the governor, local and state agencies and other partners. The consulting firm HDR, Inc. provided engineering support. 

Two years in, an incredible amount has been accomplished to complete the removal of the dam, which is scheduled to be complete by winter 2017. The effort has been funded by The Conservation Fund. Logistically, there is a limited work window when construction crews can be in the river, with the preference being to work over the winter when there aren’t as many fish in the river. With all the necessary permits secured, as of summer 2017, construction crews are hard at work to remove the dam and restore fish passage to seven miles of stream.

“It’s exciting how fast this is coming together and a testament to how excited people are – when you see this level of cooperation. And what’s particularly cool is that the Native Village of Eklutna has a construction firm that is performing the dam removal, creating jobs, creating local economic opportunity.”
                                                                                                  —Brad Meiklejohn, Senior Representative, Conservation Aquisitions 


To help secure lands sacred to the Dena’ina people and traditional Alaska Native home sites, Wells Fargo donated 143 acres of culturally and historically significant land adjacent to the village of Eklutna to The Conservation Fund for permanent preservation. Semi-subterranean dwellings (nichilq’a in Dena’ina Athabascan)—identified as among the few remaining undisturbed Dena’ina habitations within the Municipality in Anchorage—and storage caches found across this property have also been preserved. This land is another piece of an ongoing effort by the Fund to protect and restore the Eklutna people’s culturally and environmentally important lands, a partnership which now includes the ongoing removal of the lower Eklutna Dam.   

"We hope families in Eklutna, all Dena’ina people, and all Alaskans enjoy this beautiful land for generations to come. This donation is being made to honor the Dena’ina people by returning land that has immeasurable cultural and spiritual value."                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                          —Joe Everhart, Wells Fargo Alaska regional president

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