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The Bad Idea that Never Dies

Susitna-Watana Update & Upcoming Events


 

Update on Susitna Watana: AEA presentation to House Energy


The Alaska Energy Authority, AEA, the state’s energy office, presented the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric project to the Alaska House Energy Committee in Juneau on January 26th. Incorrectly touting the project as “clean reliable energy for the next 100 years” AEA once again brought Susitna-Watana Hydro back to the Legislature for consideration.


Policymakers, utilities, and state organizations, like the AEA, mistakenly categorize large-scale hydro dams as "clean" energy facilities. Dam reservoirs produce their own harmful greenhouse gases that greatly offset potential carbon reduction benefits. The decomposition of organic matter trapped in reservoir water produces methane. According to a petition spearheaded by Save the Colorado, a river conservation organization, and written by Earth Justice, “a 2016 study found that Lake Mead (the reservoir next to the Hoover Dam) alone emits approximately 9.2 million metric tons (10.1 tons) of CO2 annually.”


When questioned about how the fish would be affected, the AEA made unsupported claims that fish and habitat would not be impacted. They did not take into account the multitude of credible scientific research regarding detrimental effects that massive hydrologic change would have on the entire Susitna ecosystem. The Susitna dam would be “load-following,” meaning water is released to meet energy demands. This would severely alter the natural flow of the river below the dam and the dynamic, ecosystem-shaping processes of freeze up and break up. This massive change would ultimately destroy salmon spawning and rearing habitat causing severely harmful impacts to our wild salmon populations. The dam would also flood 40,000 acres of habitat for bear, caribou and moose, undeniably impacting one of Alaska’s most valued hunting regions.


The economics of the project don't add up even if the importance of ecological renewables and conservation of vital habitat won't sway you. The AEA continues to rely on 2014 cost estimates, which are now almost a decade old. According to the AEA, the project would cost $5.6 billion. This price tag does not account for inflation. On top of these billions of dollars, the state would also need to fund expensive upgrades to transmission lines. These upgrades would cause utility rates to escalate.


Susitna Watana is not a silver bullet for clean energy, carbon reduction, and lower energy rates. The Susitna-Watana Hydro project would have detrimental impacts to Southcentral Alaska’s economy and ecology. Building a dam this size and scale in one of Alaska’s most valued river-based economies is undeniably costly, risky and damaging. Striking Susitna-Watana from the conversation once and for all is a necessary next step for the state to take meaningful action towards meeting Alaska's carbon reduction goals.


 

BREAKING NEWS!

Dam Emissions Included in Climate Reporting

For the first time ever, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) included methane

emissions from dams and reservoirs in its annual greenhouse gas emissions report in 2022.

Despite significant research concluding dam reservoirs are not emissions-free, hydro-electric dams are still widely considered “clean” renewable energy alternatives. Dam reservoirs emit methane, a gas which has contributed 85 times more towards warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over the past 20 years. Until now, there has been no real accounting of these emissions at the national or international level.


The U.S. is the first country to include methane emissions from “flooded lands” in their greenhouse gas reports. Due to the variability of dam reservoirs and projects, a four year study that involves 108 U.S. reservoirs is underway by the EPA to determine how to best calculate dam emissions. In addition, a petition spearheaded by the Save the Colorado organization and Patagonia, Inc. to require hydroelectric dam operators to measure and report emissions to the EPA has been signed by more than 100 organizations.


If reporting of methane emissions from dams in the U.S. was regulated, it would help prevent more damaging proposed dam projects like the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric project from being considered.


See the new article in the Revelator by Tara Lohan for more on this exciting news.

 

Happening Locally: Update on the Proposal to Repeal Riparian Setback Ordinance


In December, a proposal was introduced to the Mat-Su Borough Assembly to repeal the existing 75 foot riparian buffer zone ordinance. This proposal has garnered a great deal of attention from land use planners and those concerned with preserving fish and wildlife habitat.


Riparian buffer zones, including those implemented by setback ordinances, require that a buffer be maintained separating roadways, section lines, and buildings away from riparian areas. In addition to preserving habitat and water quality, these buffer zones protect the property owner from expensive flooding and other costly potential damage. Repealing the requirement for building setbacks has raised a red flag regarding many issues for landowners and those with habitat concerns.


The current setback ordinance can be found here.


On February 2nd, the Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission met to create a Resolution surrounding the proposed ordinance change. The Commission recommended that the Mat-Su Borough keep the setback ordinance in place.


A draft of the Fish and Wildlife Commission Resolution can be found here.


Over the next few months, there will be a number of opportunities for you, the public, to engage with both the Mat-Su Borough Planning Commission and the Mat-Su Borough Assembly. Engage in this issue to help us preserve salmon and wildlife habitat, and your properties, as the Borough continues to grow and develop.


Important Upcoming Dates:


March 6, 2023:

The Proposal will be introduced to the Mat Su Borough Planning Commission


March 20, 2023:

The Proposal will see a public hearing at the Mat-Su Borough Planning Commission


April 4, 2023:

The Proposal will be introduced to the Mat-Su Borough Assembly


April 18, 2023:

The Proposal will see a public hearing at the Mat-Su Borough Assembly


More information on Testimony & Talking Points

will be sent out prior to the Public Hearings.

 

Winter Speaker Series

 

The Importance of Riparian Habitat with Jessica Johnson, ADFG


Riparian zones are critical to healthy habitat. But what exactly is a riparian zone? Why are they important? And why should we work to preserve this type of habitat?

Join the Susitna River Coalition as we welcome Jessica Johnson from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for our February winter speaker event.


On February 28th at 6 PM, Jessica will be speaking to our community about why, exactly, these habitat types are important, what they are, and how they affect our lives.



This event will be held virtually through Zoom and FacebookLive.


Zoom registration is required.


Find out more on the Facebook Event Page.

 

Ecology and Habitat of Salmon & Trout in the Susitna Basin Recreation Rivers:

with Sarah O'Neal & Trout Unlimited



The Susitna River Coalition and Trout Unlimited have been closely monitoring the proposed changes to the Sustina Basin Recreation Rivers Management plan.


This robust management plan manages six high use waterways in the Susitna drainage. The six waterways included in the plan include Alexander and Lake creeks and the Deshka, Little Susitna, Talachulitna, and Talkeetna rivers. The plan is currently under review by the Department of Natural Resources.


In light of this review and proposed changes, Sarah O’Neal, from the University of Washington, took a deep dive into all peer-reviewed, government, and grey literature regarding the ecology and habitat of Pacific salmon and other sport fish inhabited by the six designated recreation rivers.


Join Trout Unlimited and the Susitna River Coalition on March 14 at 6PM as we welcome Sarah O’Neal to discuss what she learned from her exploration into th existing knowledge from these important, high-use, anadromous waterways, and how we can maintain important fish habitat during review of the management plan.


This event will be available via Zoom and Facebook Live.

 

Update:

Revision of the Susitna Basin Recreation Rivers Management Plan


The Susitna River Coalition has been closely monitoring the review of the Susitna Basin Recreation Rivers Management Plan by the Department of Natural Resources.

Last year, the Department of Natural Resources instituted an Advisory Board to help guide the revision process. This Advisory Board is comprised of ardent river users who meet monthly to discuss the plan.

In addition to their monthly meetings, the Advisory Board has opted to meet in person during the month of February for a workshop on Chapter 2 of the management plan. The meeting will be held on February 15 from 10:30-4PM at the Palmer Public Library. Public participation is welcome. For more information, see our Facebook Event Page. The Board will also be meeting via Microsoft Teams for their regularly scheduled meetings. As always, public participation and comments are welcome. The meeting dates are as follows: February 22, 2023 from 10-12PM March 22, 2023 from 10-12PM

 

Vote to Power our Future:

Matanuska Electric Association Board Elections

The Matanuska Electric Association (MEA), our electric utility co-op, has announced the candidates for the 2023 MEA board elections.

You can view this list of candidates here.


If you pay MEA electric bills, you are able to vote for the board members. The board members work closely with the MEA administration on important decisions that affect rates and the safety and reliability of our energy grid system. We need more responsible leaders to represent the community who will fight against harmful projects such as the proposed Susitna-Watana dam.


For the 2023 election, there are two At-large seats available. Voting will begin as soon as the member-owners receive their ballots by mail. Members will then be able to vote through mail or the MEA website. We anticipate ballots going out around the end of March or beginning of April.


If you would like to receive more information and updates about the election and candidates, please fill out this short energy survey.


In addition, keep your eyes peeled for the date announcement for our SRC virtual MEA candidate forum. This forum provides a fantastic opportunity to get to know the candidates and their stance on the issues prior to casting your vote.


Want to get more involved in your local utility elections?


We are currently looking for volunteers to help us out with outreach and voter contact events. If you would like to be involved or volunteer, please contact June, the SRC Energy Coordinator, at june@susitnarivercoalition.org.


Proposed Bylaws Changes


In addition to the release of candidates, there are also some proposed MEA bylaw changes that you can review here. Pro/con statements (200 word max) about these Bylaw changes can be sent int by email.


Comments are due by Friday February 24th at 5pm.

 

Other Upcoming Events:

SRC in the Wild!

Come visit the Susitna River Coalition at these upcoming events. We'd love to chat with you about our work, our community, and the watershed that we fight for.


February 18th

Turkey Red in Palmer


March 24-26th

The Menard Center in Wasilla


April 21-23rd

The Carlson Center in Fairbanks


May 5-7th

Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna

 

We work for the Su!


It’s that time again! When filing for your PFD, please select the Susitna River Coalition as your preferred nonprofit with Pick.Click.Give.


Though you know us as the #nosudam organization, we are so much more than that.


We work for the river, the watershed, and the people that live here. As a small, grassroots nonprofit (the only locally-based, environmental, grassroots nonprofit in the region), we rely on community support to keep our work going.

Whether you have enjoyed our educational events, joined us in the fight against the West Susitna Industrial Access Road, or appreciated us keeping you up to date on all river-relevant information in the watershed, we are grateful to have you as part of our Susitna community.


Let’s keep our work going strong into 2023... and beyond.

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