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Promoting Resilient Groundwater Resources and Holistic Watershed Management in the Southern Kenai Lowlands

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In Alaska’s Kenai Lowlands, groundwater is key to healthy watersheds and resilient salmon, farms, and communities. Groundwater discharge provides important ecological services to salmon streams by moderating temperatures, maintaining stream flows, delivering nutrients, and creating overwintering habitat. At the same time, people tap into this resource by drilling wells for homes, farms, and extractive industries (such as gravel mining). As Kachemak Bay communities prepare for a changing climate, information about groundwater will be essential to manage the watershed for both people and salmon. To better understand the availability of groundwater and how human activities impact this resource, researchers at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the University of South Florida built a predictive model that shows the depth and extent of aquifers and predicts groundwater discharge and recharge.

Working collaboratively with a broad range of watershed stakeholders, the team joined this new science with local expertise to interpret the groundwater model for use in land use planning, permitting, policy decisions, and habitat protection. The project developed a suite of tools and trainings to help stakeholders better understand groundwater dynamics, including webinars, story maps, school programs, and targeted field visits with decision-makers.

The project’s findings generated new insight into groundwater use and vulnerabilities in southern Kenai Lowland watersheds. The model revealed the precariousness of groundwater resources and the potential for competition among users, while engagement with stakeholders increased awareness of the need to actively manage this limited resource. As a result, the community has begun to make changes to policies and practices to build toward resilient groundwater resources.