Indian River, Alaska

Purpose of the project: Source Document for this submission:

A Blueprint for Sustainable Management of Indian River, Sitka Alaska
By: Steve Paustian (Sitka Hydro Science) and
Jennifer Hamblen (Project Coordinator, Sitka Tribe of Alaska), May 2018

The Indian River watershed is an important asset with significant economic, ecological and cultural value to the community of Sitka, Alaska. In 2017, the Indian River Working Group was formed to improve communication and cooperation between different agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and community members with interests in the watershed. In addition to their participation as stakeholders, members also have voiced personal and organizational interest in ensuring that Indian River is managed to maintain or improve watershed values. These include trail systems, fishing and hunting opportunities, and exploring several hundred acres of intact old-growth forest just out Sitka’s back door. Primary goals informing the working group effort are:

1. Bring together stakeholders to develop a feasible watershed management strategy.
2. Provide a unique opportunity for collaboration and effective communication between stakeholders in the Indian River watershed.
3. Engage Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) to facilitate group discussions, manage data, develop partnerships and gain insights into watershed management techniques shared by other experienced natural resource managers serving in the working group.
4. Develop a prioritized list of action items to improve watershed stewardship and accomplish restoration objectives.
Indian River drains a 12.3 square mile (7,900 acre) basin with an elevation range from sea level to 3,700 ft (fig 1). This typical coastal temperate rain forest watershed setting sees an average annual precipitation of around 90 inches per year near sea level. In fall and winter months North Pacific storms bring large rainfall events (average October rainfall is 13 in). In this cool maritime climate, average air temperatures range from 34 to 55 degrees at sea level. Substantial winter snowpack accumulates at higher elevations in most years and is a major contributor to late spring and early summer stream runoff.

Development activities dating back to the early 1900’s along the lower Indian River corridor have resulted in substantial changes to channel morphology and fluvial processes. Some of the biggest impacts have been associated with gravel borrow activities in the river estuary beginning in 1940 and continuing to 1978 (Paustian 1995). Destabilization of the estuary channel network triggered accelerated bank erosion across the inter-tidal zone. Log-crib bank protection revetments constructed by the US Navy in 1945 were ineffective. Boulder rip-rap stream bank protection was placed by National Park Service in 1961 along with a 100 m section the west river bank and was followed by a major rip-rap rock structure extending 300m downstream to the 1804 Fort site. An unauthorized rock fill pad was constructed along the east bank of the estuary for a trailer park development in 1978 (fig 4). In addition, complicated land ownership and other impacts from the urbanization of the watershed have led to concerns with water quality and quantity as well as other localized habitat disturbances along and throughout the watershed.

Robust anadromous and resident fish populations in Indian River are important resources for community members and visitors to Sitka. Easy access for viewing large numbers of spawning salmon is a major draw for visitors to Sitka National Historical Park in the late summer and early fall. The Indian River watershed is also an important contributor to local commercial and recreational fisheries.

Primary anadromous fish species utilizing Indian River include pink, coho and chum salmon, steelhead trout and sea-run Dolly Varden char. A few king salmon (likely strays) have also been observed. Predominant resident fish species are Dolly Varden and rainbow trout.

Over the course of the past year, the working group participants were engaged in wide-ranging discussions of current watershed management issues and concerns that are summarized below. An outgrowth of these discussions was a list of specific management objectives that the group felt would improve ecological sustainability and maintain beneficial resource uses in the Indian River watershed.

Key stakeholder issues include:
? The Sheldon Jackson Hatchery -Sitka Sound Science Center is concerned about the current state of the hatchery diversion structure. The diversion design requires frequent and sometimes costly repairs after flood events. The associated fish pass structure also needs frequent maintenance. The hatchery requires consistent flows for hatchery operations including higher water demand during salmon spawning season. Maintenance of the flume and penstock drainage way through the Sitka Fine Arts Campus is also integral to the hatchery operation.
? Baranof Island Housing Authority has substantial residential holdings adjacent to the Indian River floodplain. Sediment deposition and channel braiding in the river associated with an abandoned logging road bridge structure and the hatchery diversion impoundment could negatively affect flood flow conveyance in this river reach.
? Sitka National Historical Park (SNHP) and other stakeholders are concerned about retaining ecological function and integrity of the Indian River corridor. In conjunction with this goal, SNHP will apply measures such as stream bank revetments and woody debris removal if necessary to protect the 1804 Fort Site from river erosion and the Pedestrian Bridge from flood-borne debris accumulations. SNHP also continues to be concerned about ecological impacts associated with unauthorized rock fill that was placed along the eastern edge of the Indian River estuary.
? The City of Sitka is concerned about retaining Indian River as a secondary municipal water supply for the community. Costly upgrades to the city water intake infrastructure and construction of a water filtration-chlorination plant would be needed to be fully in compliance with current drinking water regulations.
? Various stakeholders are concerned about meeting water needs for current beneficial water uses of Indian River; these include: backup municipal water supply for Sitka, sufficient water for SJH operations, and instream flows for sustaining salmon and other aquatic species.
? Sitka Fines Arts Camp is concerned about the integrity of the historic hatchery flume and underground penstock. Seepage from the flume ditch and underground wood stave penstock could affect foundations of campus structures.
? The National Park, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Sheldon Jackson Hatchery are concerned that large hatchery returns may home in on the river, resulting in over-escapement of pink salmon to Indian River spawning beds. This may negatively affect natural reproduction of fish in the river system and reduce the number of salmon available to harvest for hatchery cost recovery.
? Various stakeholders are concerned with maintaining access to recreational hiking, fishing, visitor interpretation, and subsistence gathering opportunities along the river corridor. Maintenance and improvements to the Sitka National Historic Park and Indian River trail systems, managed by the US Forest Service, are core elements of their concerns.
The following list of management objectives were brought forward to the working group for consideration. A total of 5 objectives (bold) were selected as consensus priorities to be addressed in the initial implementation phase of this strategy. Action items have been developed for each priority objective and are included in a full copy of the strategy report.
1. Develop plans for Sheldon Jackson Hatchery diversion and fish passage improvements that address concerns associated with flood conveyance, bedload sediment routing, upstream fish migration and maintaining adequate water supply for hatchery operations. This assessment and conceptual design process will kick off late summer 2018.
2. Maintain and improve salmon and aquatic habitat in lower Indian River by addressing concerns associated with water quality (non-point source pollution), stream channel stability, and aquatic habitat complexity.
3. Maintain the status of Indian River as a Municipal Watershed and as a secondary water supply for the City of Sitka.
4. Develop a cooperative water management plan that will help meet the water supply needs of all beneficial water uses by defining viable contingencies for dealing with periods of low water flow in the river.
5. Fill data gaps and monitoring needs associated with priority objectives and action items listed above.
Human Interest/Community Benefit:

The Indian River watershed is an important asset with significant economic, ecological and cultural value to the community of Sitka, Alaska. The Indian River Working Group (IWRG) was formed to improve communication and cooperation between different agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and community members with interests in the watershed. In addition to their participation as stakeholders, members also have voiced personal and organizational interest in ensuring that Indian River is managed to maintain or improve watershed values. Through this Waters to Watch submission, SEAKFHP and the IWRG aspire to share the progress to date and future accomplishments in support of Indian River’s ecological integrity and community use.

Project Timeline:

June 2018-December 2020

Economic Calculator Results:
To date, $24,000 has been expended for coordination of the IWRG from the National Forest Foundation (supplemental coordination proposal has been submitted), and up to $80,000 from US Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Passage Program will be applied to the pending geomorphic assessment and conceptual design of the Indian River Diversion structure. Future phases may include final design, construction, and monitoring as contractual costs and in-kind services.

Jobs: 1.9463
Total Sales: USD 181,704.29
Value Added: USD 93,728.67
Income: USD 75,953.51


Sitka Tribe of Alaska

Sitka Sound Science Center

Sitka National Historical Park

Alaska Raptor Center

Sitka Conservation Society

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Baranof Island Housing Authority

University of Alaska Southeast

US Army Corps of Engineers

US Forest Service

Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association

City & Borough of Sitka

Sitka Fine Arts Camp

Southeast Alaska Land Trust

Sitka Hydro Science

Project Submission by:
The Southeast Alaska Fish Habitat Partnership

2018 Waters to Watch