Anchorage council, volunteers are devoted to health of waterways
April 1, 2022 | View PDF
Have you ever wondered who organizes Creek Cleanup? Perhaps you have seen people taking water samples along local creeks and tried to figure out what they were doing. Have you been concerned about something along a creek and wondered who to contact? Are you curious about who is behind all those Scoop the Poop messages? The answer is the Anchorage Waterways Council (AWC), and it's been doing all this and more for nearly 40 years.
AWC was established in 1985 by a group of citizens and officials who were very concerned about local creeks that were rife with raw sewage. Its mission has been to foster and maintain the health of those waterways. Even though it's a small nonprofit, AWC manages to respond to a multitude of challenges that impact the quality of Anchorage's well-loved creeks and lakes. Very few large urban areas can boast about having easy access to prize-winning salmon derbies in their downtown as well as nature trails that wind through neighborhoods along spawning salmon habitat. And yet, it's this close proximity that also imperils the health of waterways. The primary problem stems from urban stormwater runoff that carries a witch's brew of dog poop, vehicle drips, garden chemicals, ice melt and traction products, litter and other pollutants.
Stewardship of Anchorage's great riparian resources is AWC's primary goal, which is achieved through education and outreach. Since 2008, AWC has worked with thousands of young people in hands-on classes along creeks where water bugs are collected and identified and stream measurements are taken. Since 1998, AWC has trained more than 200 citizen monitors who go out monthly to collect and analyze water samples at over 35 locations. An estimated 25,000 citizens have participated in AWC's past Creek Cleanups, which have removed over 50 tons of trash and debris since 1985. Seven years ago, AWC created monofilament recycling bins that were placed at local fishing spots to reduce the impact of fishing line and debris on birds and wildlife.
One of AWC's primary programs is Scoop the Poop, because pet waste that is not cleaned up has human and pet health consequences from fecal coliform bacteria. Every creek and major lake (University, Campbell and Westchester Lagoon) in the Anchorage bowl is listed as an impaired waterbody by the EPA due to fecal coliform. It is only through education and compliance that there is any hope of removing this status.
AWC is highly reliant on residents to be its "eyes on the creeks". This vigilance is often the only means of learning about issues of concern that would otherwise never be known. These issues range from the illegal dumping of trash or illegal substances into creeks to setback encroachments. If you see something that is disturbing, it can be reported at http://www.anchoragecreeks.org/report-an-issue.
All of these programs are dependent on funding from memberships, donations, grants and contracts as well as the time given by Anchorage's great volunteers and working board. We are proud of the work that has been accomplished despite limited resources. If you care about Anchorage's creeks and lakes, please consider becoming a member and also volunteering. A perfect opportunity is coming up. Our 38th Creek Cleanup is between May 12 and May 24. All information is on our website at http://www.anchoragecreeks.org.
Cherie Northon has been the executive director of AWC since 2010. Contact her at Cherie@anchoragecreeks.org.