Commentary: Community action for a cleaner Kotsina

Freezers, car parts and styrofoam were among the debris removed from the Kotsina River. Photo courtesy of Lisa Docken

It was a simple phone call. One that would bring such positive energy in a more challenging year surrounding COVID-19. Dave Cruz, CEO and owner of Cruz Construction, had reached out to the Wrangell Institute for Science and the Environment and Copper River Watershed Project to offer his services. Dave is a Kenny Lake resident and fishwheel user on the Kotsina River delta and he wanted the area cleaned up. Numerous old abandoned fishwheels, cars and even RVs contaminated the area. He was willing to donate his services of equipment and labor to make it happen. I recall vividly the first time I called him confirming that this offer was actually true.

While this call set in motion a quick two-month preparation for the big clean-up effort, the project started years ago, when my predecessor Kristin Carpenter put in a huge effort to convene partners to garner support to submit a lengthy grant proposal to clean up the Kotsina delta, the exact area Dave expressed interest in tackling. It can be challenging to get funding for these kinds of activities, so of course when I spoke to Dave and it was true that his offer still stood to donate his services, I was ecstatic. I knew just how incredible this offer was and it didn’t take long to reach out to those supportive partners that were behind this project idea from the beginning to plan our next steps.

Five dump truck loads of debris were removed from the Kotsina River. Photo courtesy of Lisa Docken

Five dump truck loads of metal, debris, old car and RV parts, nasty foam and a few freezers later, we thank the watershed community that made this possible. Your contributions took those huge piles of garbage and got them to the recycler or landfill. You also helped facilitate a volunteer cleanup day where 20 participants hiked on foot or drove on ATVs to clean up any remaining trash on state, Ahtna and Chitina lands in the area. In addition to individual contributions, we received financial support from Chitina Village Corp., Ahtna, Inc., Chitina Native Corp., Alyeska and A/C Value Center (Cordova).

Our next step is to connect with the state to discuss how we can prevent this from happening again. The Kotsina delta is an ever-changing landscape and one that can be ruthless and even lethal. I witnessed old car parts, including gas tanks, come right out of the water this year. Gas tanks and vehicle parts that no doubt had oil, gasoline and other contaminants in them when they were taken by the river. Fishwheels contain floats made from styrofoam which break apart and form microplastics. These assets are not lost on purpose – no one wants to have their car adopted into the delta! But we can all proceed cautiously with activities, understand the risks and try to avoid accidents. So, support salmon and support future fishing in these beloved areas by taking extra measures to be safe. We all wish for safe and fruitful future fishing throughout the Copper River and I hope we can help to ensure that keeps happening! I would love to hear thoughts from those that know and use this area on how we can work together to improve safety measures. Reach out to me at info@copperriver.org and I’ll work to keep this momentum going!