Alaskan anglers and business owners are witnessing and adapting to numerous stressors on our wild fisheries, including King salmon decline, unpredictable salmon returns, invasive species, water temperature increases, and more. All of these are outside our control.
Fortunately, ensuring that water remains in our streams and important waterways is within our control. And Alaskans, Native Tribes, businesses, and organizations like TU should have the opportunity to reserve water in rivers for the benefit of fish and wildlife.
Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), at the direction of Governor Dunleavy, is proposing changes to water management regulations that will eliminate the ability of Alaskans, anglers, and business owners to ensure that water continues to flow down rivers and streams that are important to wild fish.
State water regulations allow businesses and other entities to obtain water rights to remove water from lakes, rivers and streams to support development and other projects. These water withdrawals range from small diversions of little consequence or concern, to withdrawals that divert entire waterways and render streams uninhabitable to fish, of little value to wildlife, and can have serious consequence for people that rely on the waterways.
DNR’s current water management regulations also allow individuals, businesses, and other entities to seek water reservations that can keep water in streams for the benefit of fish and wildlife, and in turn, humans and local economies. The changes proposed by Governor Dunleavy would eliminate Alaskans’ ability to obtain water reservations, and restrict instream flow reservations so only state and federal agencies can hold reservations for fish and wildlife. With state budgets stretched to the breaking point and precious limited state resources diverted to other priorities, these proposed changes likely mean an end to new instream flow reservations.
So, while Alaskans will lose the opportunity to protect the water and habitat integral to the health of our fisheries, and state agencies don’t have the budget to do the work themselves, outside business and other industries will have an increased ability to withdraw and divert water, even if it means drying up entire streams and killing off entire runs of salmon. Just as the DNR regularly grants water rights to companies wanting to withdraw water in support of economic activities, the DNR should also grant water rights to entities wanting to reserve water for fish and wildlife in support of economic activities, our subsistence lifestyle, our sporting tradition, and our Alaska way of life.
What do these changes mean?
To boil this down, here’s a helpful example: Trout Unlimited has pending applications for Upper Talarik Creek, the North and South Forks of the Koktuli River, and a handful of other important salmon streams in southwest Alaska. Some of these applications were filed more than a decade ago. These streams are iconic sportfishing destinations that support thriving commercial and tourism industries. The proposed water regulation changes will eliminate Trout Unlimited’s ability to obtain these instream flow reservations, and will put at risk some of our most important waters, which provide cultural benefits to Alaska Native Tribes and local business owners that rely on the maintenance of healthy fish habitat.
This is just one of an untold number of examples where these changes fail salmon, local business owners, and the public.
How can you help?
These proposed changes are big news that, so far, few stakeholders have had the ability to learn about and comment on. Trout Unlimited, and other groups invested in supporting Alaska’s wild fisheries, clean water, and healthy streams, requested an extension to the comment period, and submitted questions to DNR to learn more about how the proposed changes will impact Alaskans and our fisheries.
While we are still waiting for answers to our questions, we are pleased to share that the public comment period has been extended to March 19th. Submit your comment today to ensure the ability of Alaskans to reserve water in rivers for fish.
Water is an integral resource for humans, ecosystems, communities and local economies. These decisions cannot be rushed nor swept under the rug. We are encouraged by the comment period extension. Please take the opportunity to make your voice heard.
Comments are due by 5:00 pm on March 19th. Get yours in sooner rather than later. This is your chance to help protect the ability of Alaskans to ensure future flows of water for important fisheries.