An “Event” – The Chena Floods

Rain, rain, rain – we have had 2 weeks of rain and the Chena River started to rise. Everyone from the Corps to the mayor of Fairbanks is concerned about flooding and potential damage caused. The Corps Rangers have gone on 12 hour shifts with hourly checking of the water and the dam. Cyndy and I have been manning the office phones to answer questions. We are now getting to see the real purpose for the Chena Flood Control Project as we go through our first flood of the season. The Corps calls this situation an “Event.”

The picture below is of the dam in June, showing calm water and plenty of room for boats to pass through.

During normal river levels this is how the up stream side of the dam looks.

In 1967, Fairbanks experienced a flood that destroyed much of the city. Over 4,000 people had to be evacuated and much of the downtown was destroyed. To prevent another flood the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stepped in. The problem is that the Chena River flows through the heart of downtown Fairbanks so the Corps’ plan called for limiting the volume of water to pass through a dam located about 15 miles upstream and east of Fairbanks.

The river has risen 8 feet and the dam gates have been lowered, closing the river to boat traffic.

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One of the problems caused by the flooding is the amount of debris (trees, logs etc.) that is carried down the river. The large crane in the picture will be used to remove the debris.

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The blue screen door looking things are called “trash racks.”  In a severe event they would be lowered allowing the rangers to continue regulating the volume of water by raising or lowering the gates without debris getting caught under them.

 

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The numbers on the side of the dam indicate the actual river elevation (feet above sea level). June 1992 was the date of a severe event with water reaching almost 508′.

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Normal July-August river volume runs at 700-1,000 ft3/sec (cubic feet per second).  The Corps is mandated to only allow the river to get to 8,100  ft3/sec.  When the Chena reached that level Friday night, the gates were lowered. During the 1967 flood the River was running at 74,000 ft3/sec.

Water over 8,100′ in volume is diverted south to the Tanana River by the construction of an 8 mile long levee.  In this first picture you are looking south on top of the levee near the dam.  Our trailer is just behind us to the right.

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This picture was taken 2-3 miles further south on the levee.  At the southern most end of the levee there is a spillway where the flood water empties into the Tanana River.

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Although this event is only 10% of the 1967 flood, it demonstrates just how important this project is to the city of Fairbanks and it was exciting for us to watch the Corps go into action.

Cliff and Cyndy

 

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North Pole, Alaska

Are you a believer? Santa Claus is real and lives at the North Pole, right? If you are struggling to believe, take a look at what we have found in this town and you might change your mind.

North Pole, AK is about 15 miles south-east of Fairbanks between Fort Wainwright Army Base and Eielson Air Force Base, which is why we hear the jets flying formations right over our heads most days. And for those that care, the actual North Pole is located about 1,700 miles further north.

The entire town gets into the Christmas spirit with their decorations.

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The street signs have some pretty Christmasy names.

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We spotted a local welding shop and a Catholic Church getting into the spirit.

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We like that the Post Office gets into the Christmas spirit and does not worry about being politically correct. However, they need a new paint job on their candy canes and Cliff offered to take up a collection for them but they declined.

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Of course Santa lives at the North Pole and his house and his gift shop get a lot of attention.

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This is where Santa keeps his reindeer and he lets the kids come in to pet them. We understand that the reindeer only fly on Christmas Eve.

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Were you convinced? Are you a believer? We certainly have changed our minds about Santa being real. And clearly he needs lots of visitors to come visit his town to generate income during the year to offset the cost of all of those gifts he brings on Christmas Eve.

Cliff and Cyndy

Our Summer Volunteer Work

We really haven’t blogged about where we are volunteering this summer.  It is called the Chena River Lakes Flood Control Project.

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Welcome to the northernmost flood risk mitigation project operated by the Corps of Engineers in North Pole, AK. Authorized by Congress after the devastating 1967 flood,

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In the summer of 1967, one of the worst disasters in the history of Alaska struck the Fairbanks area. Unusually heavy rains swelled the Chena and Little Chena rivers six feet above their flood stage. Water poured into downtown Fairbanks and the outlying regions, driving residents to their rooftops and eventually displacing nearly 7,000 people from their homes.

The Dam and associated features reduce flooding to the interior Alaskan city of Fairbanks, as well as providing local residents and visitors a myriad of recreational opportunities on nearly 20,000 acres of public land.  Construction began in 1973, and the Corps completed the $256 million Chena Project in 1979.

A key component of the dam and levee system, located about 20 miles east of Fairbanks, was the massive concrete outlet works and flood gates. During normal fluctuations of the Chena River, the outlet works remained open, allowing the natural flow of water. Fish, as well as boats, continued to travel through the open gates. At periods of high water, however, the Corps lowered the flood gates, directing excess water to the Tanana River.

The Chena River flows west. This picture was taken down stream looking east.

The Chena River flows west. This picture was taken down river looking east just a few feet from our camp site.

During normal river levels this is how the up stream side of the dam looks.

During normal river levels this is how the up river side of the dam looks.

During high flow levels called an "Event" the river washes a lot of debris down the river. A crane is lifting large trees and debris from the river.

During high flow levels called an “Event” the river washes a lot of debris down the river. A crane is lifting large trees and debris from the river.

An aerial picture looking south during a high water Event . Much of the river is being diverted south along the levee to the Tanana River.

An aerial picture looking south during a high water Event . Much of the river is being diverted south along the levee to the Tanana River.

The entire dam and levee is 8 miles long running north and south between the Chena and Tanana Rivers.

The entire dam and levee is 8 miles long running north and south between the Chena and Tanana Rivers.  You can see part of the Chena Lakes on the left side of the picture.  The local Borough (i.e. county) controls the lake and its campground and picnic areas.  The buildings in the center are the offices and maintenance building for both the Corps and the Borough.

Our office which is the Corp office and visitor's center.

Our office which is the Corp office and visitor’s center.  That’s friend Connie planting flowerrs.

Looking north this road runs 4 miles long from the entrance gate to the Mills trailer and next to the levee.

Looking north this road runs 4 miles long from the entrance gate to the Mills trailer and next to the levee.

Our trailer parked at a Host Camp site looking south.

Our trailer parked at a Host Camp site looking south.

Cliff

 

Bear Watching Adventure

July 31, 2015

Last week I flew across the Cook Inlet to go bear viewing with a friend and we got to see quite a few brown bears and one black bear. They were all feeding on salmon that had made it back up river to spawn. I was in the boat when I took these pictures and never in danger of being mauled by a bear (Cyndy was concerned!).

Yup, that’s a brown bear fishing between the boats with fishermen all around.

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Eyes closed, head bowed – must be saying grace before eating his salmon.

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Oh which salmon to eat for dinner? Here fishy, fishy…

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This picture shows the brown bear’s hump and the shape of its head. The black bear has a pointed snout, larger ears and no hump. A black bear decided to join the fishing party. I thought the bears would win the fishing competition the men in the boats were doing a much better job.

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Missed it again.  You should have seen the one that got away.

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A family squabble, these two teenagers were at it again.

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Almost in over his head, bears are great swimmers.

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Our day began with a 30 minute plane ride across the Cook Inlet southwest of Anchorage. We took off from a lake near Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula.

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Once over the inlet we flew over a coastal area called the Flats which was mostly swamps with almost no trees.

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Before landing on the lake of our destination we flew over a glacier. Most of the Alaskan Peninsula is covered with a large mountain range and almost nobody lives there.

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It turned out to be a beautiful day.  There were probably no other humans within 50 miles.

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Our dinner was salmon caught minutes before we cooked it right in the boat.

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Southern Alaska is located on the “Ring of Fire” extending from the east coast of Asia to the west coast of North and South America. Just this last Wednesday we experienced a 6.2 earthquake – everything was moving and it continued for several minutes.

Cliff