Cordova’s “Million Dollar” Eyak Lake
One of five primary sockeye spawning lakes on the Copper River delta, Eyak Lake lies within the developed Cordova community. This makes it an accessible recreation playground for boating, swimming, and ice skating, but it’s also a receiving waterbody for stormwater runoff pollutants. With the help of volunteers and many funding agencies, the Copper River Watershed Project has invested restoration funds over two decades on the valuable fish habitat in Eyak Lake. Eyak Lake is home to ten fish species, including sockeye, coho, and pink salmon, cutthroat trout, and Dolly Varden.
In 1981 Eyak Lake was recommended for designation as an “Area Meriting Special Attention” by the Alaska Coastal Policy Council because of the lake’s diverse wildlife, scenic beauty, and economic value to the fishing town of Cordova, Alaska.
ADF&G biologists have estimated Eyak Lake provides an annual ex-vessel value for commercial harvests of sockeye and coho salmon between $1,009,057 to $1,732,207 (2009 – 2018 ADF&G Finfish Reports) … making Eyak Lake truly a MILLION DOLLAR lake.
In 2009 the Copper River Watershed Project was awarded over one million dollars from NOAA, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, making this the million-dollar grant to restore our million-dollar lake. Other funding sources included: USFWS, NFWF, and the Alaska Coastal Management Program.
Fish are a critical public resource in the Copper River watershed. Eighty percent of area households harvest fish, game and berries for subsistence use. Fifty percent of Cordova’s economy relies on commercial fishing. Sustaining salmon spawning habitat is essential in a region where fish have enormous economic and cultural value.
Fine sediment in streams can choke fish to death: it smothers incubating eggs and also abrades and clogs fish gills. These problems exist in places in the Copper River drainage where heavy vehicle use and foot traffic have eroded the bank vegetation that holds soil in place, contributing to heavy siltation into salmon streams and rivers.
Eyak Lake Restoration Projects
Since 2003, the Copper River Watershed Project has been coordinating partnerships and volunteer efforts to restore bank vegetation, fish passage, and water quality in Eyak Lake with these efforts:
- bank re-vegetation work at avalanche zone and at Nirvana Park, 2003 and 2006;
- studied the presence of hydro-carbon pollutants in stormwater runoff draining into Eyak Lake;
- replaced 3 x 36″ culverts on Power Creek Road with one 58′ x 19′ x 6′ 1″ “stream simulation” culvert that facilitated stream sediment transport for replenishing spawning gravels in Eyak Lake;
- used ARRA stimulus funds to remove an un-permitted spit and restore water circulation; reduce turbidity and hydrocarbons in Eyak Lake with installation of an oil and grit separator to filter Lake Avenue stormwater runoff; and
- analyzed City and Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities snow management and storage practices to reduce snow melt pollution draining into Eyak Lake.
PAST RESTORATION PROJECTS
Power Creek Road Spit Removal
Constructed in the 1960s; the spit was built to offer wave protection to a float plane dock, however this area is no longer used for this purpose.
Excavated fill from the spit. A silt blanket was used in the October 2009 construction. The shoreline was revegetated.
Improved lake circulation adjacent to the sockeye spawning beds and rearing habitat for cutthroats, coho juveniles, and sockeye fry.
Nirvana Park Oil & Grit Separator
Stormwater emptied directly into Eyak Lake from the stormwater lines that drain Lake Avenue and the surrounding neighborhoods. This water brings with it high loads of sediment and hydrocarbons that can make life difficult for young salmon.
Installed a Stormceptor Oil & Grit Separator to collect and separate out sediment and hydrocarbons before they enter the Eyak lake.
Worked with the City or Cordova and AK DOT to address snow storage practices to help keep unnecessary sand, salt and chemicals from entering the lake.
Improved salmon rearing sites by flushing sediment buildup, reduced turbidity and decreased hydrocarbon input into Eyak Lake.