Big Lake, Alaska

Big Lake, located in the fast-developing Mat-Su Basin, is a large well populated and heavily recreated lake in the growing community of Big Lake just west of the City of Wasilla. The lake itself, with 26 miles of shoreline, and two streams in its basin, are used by spawning sockeye and coho salmon each year, and host resident populations of Dolly Varden, Rainbow Trout, and other fish.

Both Fish Creek, which drains directly into the Pacific at the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet, and Meadow Creek, a spring-fed system which empties into Big Lake, are important salmon waters with several active partner studies, angling recreation, water monitoring, and youth & community volunteers participating in hands-on restoration projects.

This waterbody has been the centerpiece of the Big Lake Community’s discussions in plans to expand, possibly incorporating as City, and in the oncoming construction of a rail spur connecting Port Mackenzie in the south to Alaska’s Interior and the rest of 26,000 square miles Mat-Su Borough and industrial opportunities along the railway. The area is changing rapidly, and it is hoped that designation as a Water to Water 2013 will serve to celebrate and highlight many partners’ efforts and projects towards a healthy development model embracing preservation of clean water and the integrity of fish habitat. Big Lake Community is working on a Community Impact Assessment Project with the Mat-Su Borough to address responsible growth, including habitat concerns.

Big Lake is listed as an Impaired Waterbody by DEC for hydrocarbon-water quality exceedances, and ongoing testing and outreach programs are addressing point and non-point source pollution vectors.

Project Timeline:
Many of these projects on Big Lake have occurred already, and some of the projects completed were funded with previous NFHAP funds. Some of these projects are ongoing, like juvenile salmon migrations, water quality and stream flow monitoring, and public outreach & education. Shoreline and streambank restoration projects occur during the Alaska field season, which is from May to October.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – funding, juvenile fish abundance study 2011-2013, Spawning Distribution, Cold Water Inputs data, restoration assistance, and habitat utilization projects for both sockeye and coho adult salmon and for coho juveniles.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish - measured flow at four locations in the drainage in order to understand and protect the flows that support salmon. The weir at Fish Creek has been active past several decades, monitoring and managing adult sockeye and coho runs in the drainage. Sustainable escapement goals are in place for both species. ADF&G Sportfish supported Meadow Creek Restoration 2012, and Big Lake Sailing Club shoreline restoration 2012 & 2013
Department of Fish and Game, Commercial Fish Division - estimates the number of salmon smolt leaving the drainage each spring
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation – funding for Boat Launch outreach, conduct water testing for hydrocarbons 2006-2013, responsible for Listing/Unlisting as Impaired Waterbody, Clean Water Working Group funding & facilitation
The Nature Conservancy – coordinates Mat-Su NFHP area
Cook Inletkeeper – Clean Boating and Marinas outreach, funding from DEC grants, Clean Boating and Alaska Clean Harbors outreach 2011, 2012, and 2013
Mat-Su Conservation Services – community & local business outreach, boat launch outreach, Girl Scouts participation, public education, restoration participation
Aquatic Restoration and Research Institute – various studies since 2004, most NFHP funding + DEC, AKSSF: Stream Temperature Monitoring, Relative Abundance of Juvenile Salmon in Meadow Creek, Stormwater Quality looking at fish, invertebrates and water chemistry, Bioenergetic Modeling, (using fish to look at differences in habitat quality on Meadow Creek) 2013, Water Sampling in Big Lake - Working with DEC impaired waters to test effects of education campaign, 2013
Matanuska-Susitna Borough – planning, shoreline vegetated setback outreach, lake water quality testing volunteers/program, public park at Fish Creek outlet,
Big Lake Elementary – classroom activities for clean water with Girl Scout project 2012
Midnight Sun Elementary – restoration at Fish Creek outlet & Borough Park 2009
Alaska State Parks, Mat-Su – maintain public launches, campgrounds, clean boating outreach, plan clean bilge dump facilities
Big Lake Sailing Club – shoreline restoration project, summer environmental camp, 2012-2013
Girl Scouts of America, Mat-Su Council – clean boating and clean water, stormwater 2012 outreach, Gold Star Award to high school student assistance for Big lake 2012 project with Mat-Su Conservation Services and Big lake Elementary
Sportsman’s Warehouse store – booth space during sales for Big Lake Clean Boating displays with several partners
Wasilla Soil and Water Conservation District – Meadow Creek restoration 2012
Environmental Protection Agency – funding MSB stormwater management plan and green infrastructure demos for shoreline landowners
Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund – funding for Shoreline Landowner Restoration and 5-year Stream Flow study data 2008-2013 aimed at securing in-stream flow reservations for fish
Cook Inlet Aquaculture - Hatchery fish released until 2008
Big Lake Chamber of Commerce – Clean Water Group, community newsletter updates
Big Lake Clean Water Action Group – DEC funded, meeting fall-winter-spring since 2010
Burkeshore Marina – clean-burning fuel disposal facility (DEC grant 2011), fuel clean-up stations, staff spill response training, clean water booth at yearly Big Lake Family Fishing Derby is a well-attended outreach event!

2013 Waters to Watch