By Naomi Klouda
While Seward and other parts of the Kenai Peninsula are facing flood conditions due to glacial dam failures and heavy rainfall, residents in the Homer area actually aren’t gaining much rain out of this summer.
Rainfall in Homer is down significantly from previous years at this time. Last year, the total precipitation recorded was 44.19 inches. This year, recordings at the Homer Airport show that, by the end of July, the area received only 5.27 inches.
Granted, 2008 was a wet year, with twice the rainfall as 2007’s 22.51 inches. Still, at this rate, the area is below rainfall averages, said Joel Markis, a fisheries biologist with the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.
“This being July, we’re slightly below average for our precipitation values,” he explained. “But I would expect those numbers to come up in the fall when we get our wet season.”
Markis has collected figures from the Homer Airport and charted them since 2004. According to the data, so far, the lowest recorded amount was 17.89 inches in 2005, with the highest coming in at 2008’s 44.19 inches.
Markis said problems with lower salmon-run numbers could be partly due to low water levels that stymie fish progress up streams to spawn.
The variation of rainfall amounts across the peninsula this summer proved extreme. Hikers along Kenai Peninsula trails were warned to watch for landslides, flooded streams and heavy rainfall from Girdwood to Seward and Cooper Landing. Seward was seeing its normal amount of rainfall, an average of 68 inches per year.
However, not having enough water brings a whole other set of issues.
While a few South Peninsula residents have experienced problems with home wells, Don Ridl, owner of South Central Drilling of Homer, said he hasn’t received as many calls as he expected.
He said people tend to call him when their water tables prove insufficient for their household needs.
“Most of the wells here in Homer are dug at 40 feet or deeper, and unless we go into a heck of drought, most folks will have plenty of water,” Ridl explained. “But those who depend on rain for surface water or who have wells under 40 feet, they will likely have some problems.”
Ridl, who has been in the well-drilling business since 1986, speculated that home owners may not be calling with their difficulties because of the challenging economy.
He also noted that Seward not only has more rainfall than Homer, it also has a much richer water table.
“Seward is full of water. Homer would kill for the water that Seward has – about 80 gallons of water per minute,” Ridl said. “On Diamond Ridge, they are happy with five gallons per minute.”
So far, the City of Homer water reservoir at Bridge Creek has held up, said Public Works Director Carey Meyer.
“It’s not unusual for the reservoir not to overflow across the dam for a week or two – especially that last week in July and the first in August,” Meyer said. “But once you get into August, you typically get into a little wetter time of year and we get some precipitation in the watershed. This year, it hasn’t affected adequate water for the community.”
The Alaska State Climate Center, located in Anchorage, has the only averages for towns around the state. Homer experienced higher temperatures than the previous three years, but all the data is not in yet.
According to a Regional Climate Impacts report released last month by the University of Alaska Anchorage, the average annual temperatures in Alaska are projected to rise about 3.5 to 7 degrees fahrenheit by the middle of this century. The higher temperatures will likely mean increased coastal erosion, according to the report, as well as shifts of marine species such as pollack and other commercial fish stocks.
“Climate plays a key role in determining the extent and severity of insect outbreaks and wildfires. During the 1990s, for example, south central Alaska experienced the largest outbreak of spruce beetles in the world.”
It occurred because rising temps allowed the beetle to survive over the winter. Large areas of dead trees “are highly flammable and thus much more vulnerable to wildfires than living trees,” the report states.
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