State of the Beach/State Reports/AK/Water Quality

From Beachapedia

Home Beach Indicators Methodology Findings Beach Manifesto State Reports Chapters Perspectives Model Programs Bad and Rad Conclusion

Water Quality Monitoring Program

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) signed into law on October 10, 2000, amends the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), incorporating provisions intended to reduce the risk of illness to users of the Nation's recreational waters. The BEACH Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award program development and implementation grants to eligible States, Territories, Tribes, and local governments to support microbiological testing and monitoring of coastal recreation waters, including the Great Lakes, that are adjacent to beaches or similar points of access used by the public. BEACH Act grants also provide support for development and implementation of programs to notify the public of the potential exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in coastal recreation waters. EPA encourages coastal States and Territories to apply for BEACH Act Grants for Program Implementation (referred to as Implementation Grants) to implement effective and comprehensive coastal recreation water monitoring and public notification programs. CWA section 406(i) authorizes appropriations of up to $30 million per year to develop and implement beach programs. Unfortunately, only about one-third that amount has been authorized each year since the program's inception. In recent years, the total funding available for BEACH Act grants has been about $9.5 million. Funding beyond 2012 has been in jeopardy, since EPA's budget requests for this program in FY2013 and FY2014 were ZERO (money for testing in 2013 and 2014 was ultimately allocated as part of Continuing Resolutions to resolve the Federal Budget impasse) and there was also no money for beach testing in the FY2015 budget. Again, it was restored at the last minute as part of a Continuing Resolution. It is very discouraging to have to fight for this basic funding to protect the public's health at the beach every year. Thankfully, there is a growing movement to provide stable funding. Unfortunately, in 2017 the situation is even more dire. If available, funds are allocated to the states and territories based on a formula which uses three factors that are readily available and verifiable: (1) Length of beach season, (2) miles of beach and (3) number of people that use the beaches. Alaska was eligible for a $144,000 grant in fiscal year 2016. The small grant size, despite Alaska's long shoreline, is due to EPA's determination that Alaska’s beach season is less than 3 months.

Portions of the following discussion have been taken from NRDC's Testing the Waters report, June 2014. NRDC's report evaluates beach monitoring data relative to EPA's recommended Beach Action Value (BAV). The BAV is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions."

NRDC ranked Alaska 29th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states). 24% of samples exceeded EPA's new BAV standards for designated beach areas in 2013.

Alaska has nearly 44,000 miles of coastal shoreline, 14,000 miles of which are actively managed. Although cold water temperatures discourage swimming, recreational shoreline activities such as fishing, kayaking, and beachcombing are quite popular. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) administers the state's beachwater quality program and has identified more than 200 recreational beaches. In 2003, Alaska conducted a survey of municipalities across the state and designated 203 marine locations as recreational beaches. Of these 203 recreational beaches, 46 are considered to be at higher risk for water quality concerns. In 2012, the DEC selected a subset of 26 beaches to monitor. These beaches were chosen according to whether DEC had ongoing concerns about the location, because monitoring had not previously occurred, or because there was particular interest by a community in conducting beach water quality monitoring.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's Beach Grant Program defines a beach as "any shoreline where recreational activities may bring a person into complete or partial body contact with marine water." NOTE: This definition may include sections of a shoreline that do not appear to look like a sandy beach.

Communities that have participated in the BEACH program include Dillingham, Haines, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, and Naknek. For state fiscal year 2014, BEACH Grants were awarded to Kenai - North Kenai Beach, South Kenai Beach, and Warren Ames Bridge Beach. Sampling is being completed by governments and watershed councils and similar organizations in conjunction with the local land representative.

Additional information about Alaska's BEACH Grant program can be found here.

NRDC reported:

In 2013, Alaska reported 25 coastal beaches, 7 of which were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 24% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml marine or estuarine water in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in 2013 were South Kenai Beach in Kenai Peninsula County (59%), North Kenai Beach in Kenai Peninsula County (19%), and Lena Cove Beach in Juneau (9%). According to the state, North and South Kenai fecal numbers are associated with wildlife. Microbial source tracking analysis reports birds as the bacteria source.

In June 2013, U.S. EPA released its latest data about beach closings and advisories for the 2012 swimming season. Note that for some states the data is incomplete, making state-to-state or year-to-year comparisons difficult. EPA no longer publishes this report.

Some water quality information can be found at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's Clean Water Water Quality website.

The state's existing water quality standards are contained in 18 AAC 70.020(b), which can be found at These regulations were last amended December 28, 2006.

The bacteriological water quality standards for contact and "secondary" recreation for either fresh water or marine waters are:

Contact Recreation

In a 30-day period, the geometric mean of samples may not exceed 100 FC/100 ml, and not more than one sample, or more than 10% of the samples if there are more than 10 samples, may exceed 200 FC/100 ml.

Secondary Recreation
In a 30-day period, the geometric mean of samples may not exceed 200 FC/100 ml, and not more than 10% of the total samples may exceed 400 FC/100 ml.

Other Monitoring

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Division of Water has developed a long term Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Strategy to guide its stewardship of Alaska's marine and fresh waters. This strategy is intended to meet the federal expectations for state water quality stewardship activities outlined in the Clean Water Act in a manner influenced by Alaska's unique needs and challenges.

National Ocean Service/National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) has carried out many water quality research projects in Alaska.

The Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN) is a National Ocean Service/National Center for Coastal Ocean Science program operating in ten coastal states with the ultimate goal of linking laboratory scientists to the general public. PMN's seven goals are:

  • To create a comprehensive list of harmful algal species inhabiting coastal marine waters
  • To monitor and maintain an extended survey area along coastal waters throughout the year
  • To isolate areas prone to harmful algal blooms (HABs) for further study by Marine Biotoxins researchers
  • To identify general trends, such as time and area, where HABs are more likely to occur
  • To promote increased awareness and education to the public, particularly students, on HABs
  • To increase the public's awareness of research conducted by federal and state workers on HABs
  • To create a working relationship with open communication between volunteers and researchers through PMN

Water Quality Contacts

Alaska Beach Grant Program

Gretchen Pikul
410 Willoughby Ave
Juneau, AK 99801

Jim Powell
DEC Water Quality Assessment and Monitoring Program
(907) 465-5185
Juneau, AK

Brock Tabor
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

DEC Division of Water

Director: Lynn Kent
(907) 269-7599

Alaska Clean Water Actions (ACWA)

Cindy Gilder
Water Quality Assessment and Reporting Section Manager
(907) 269-3066

Laura Eldred
Protection and Restoration Section Acting Manager
(907) 376-1855

Water Quality Assessment and Monitoring

Nancy Sonafrank, Program Manager

Storm Drains and Sewage Outfalls

A Website that provides permit information on all state and federal wastewater discharge permits in Alaska, including waste discharge conditions and the location and length of sewer outfalls is

The John M. Asplund Wastewater Treatment Facility, built in 1972 and serving Anchorage, is Alaska's largest wastewater treatment facility. It was upgraded in 1982 to a 28 million gallon per day (mgd) facility and upgraded again in 1989 to a 58 mgd facility. The extreme high tides and natural water flow of Cook Inlet complement the treatment process. These factors allow the John M. Asplund facility's treated effluent to be discharged into Cook Inlet with apparently little adverse effect to the environment. The dynamics of Cook Inlet, the relatively high level of suspended solids removal, about 75 to 80 percent via primary treatment, and chlorination allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue Anchorage a waiver from secondary treatment. To continue operating under the waiver, Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU) maintains an extensive marine monitoring program. The last permit that was issued by EPA for this facility was in 2000. Since 2005 AWWU has been working with EPA on the administrative extension of the permit. EPA expects to complete its technical review of the waiver application during fall/winter 2014 and then initiate a stakeholder and public review process.

AWWU's Eagle River and Girdwood Wastewater Treatment Facilities are modern, tertiary (three stage) treatment plants. Their effluent discharge into Glacier Creek and Eagle River is near drinking water quality. The Eagle River Wastewater Treatment Plant was expanded in 1991 to 2.5 mgd for enough capacity into the year 2005. In 1995 it received EPA's Medium Plant Of The Year award for the Pacific Northwest/Alaska Region. Girdwood has a treatment capacity of 650,000 gallons per day. It will also be equipped to expand and double its treatment capacity for future years.

Some information on storm drains may be obtainable through the Websites of major municipalities

Nonpoint Source Pollution

Alaska's Nonpoint Source Strategy, Volume 1: Strategy Document, prepared by Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Air & Water Quality, Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program in September 2000 notes the following:

Alaska has a tremendous diversity of water resources, including 365,000 miles of rivers and streams, at least 170 million acres of wetlands, more than a million lakes larger than five acres, and 44,226 miles of coastal shoreline waters. Alaskans use approximately 90 million gallons of water each and every day. Of this total, 60 million gallons comes from surface waters and over 30 million from groundwater. The vast majority of Alaska's waters are healthy. However, 58 water bodies were identified in 1998 as having localized pollution problems, some of them from multiple sources.

Urban sources, such as road runoff, land development, landfills, storm drains, domestic septic tanks or systems, and runoff from yards and walkways, are the dominant source of water pollution in Alaska. Log transfer facility sites are another major source.

Many community, business, and industry operations also generate end-of-pipe discharges. These wastewaters enter streams, lakes, groundwater and marine waters.

Community growth often goes hand-in-hand with loss of water quality and fisheries habitat. For example, several streams in Alaska's larger communities no longer support viable runs of salmon. The quality and quantity of ground water in some urban areas have also been impacted by population growth. Many rural and village communities face the same challenges experienced in more developed areas, including pressure for community expansion along waterways that support fish and wildlife.

Alaska Clean Water Actions (ACWA) was created through Administrative Order 200. This directive told Alaska resource agencies to work together to characterize Alaska's waters in a holistic manner; sharing data, expertise and other information. ACWA's database of priority waters and identified stewardship actions is a product of this collaboration. The three state resource agencies, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Fish and Game and Department of Natural Resources also conduct an annual joint matched-solicitation for water quality projects using funds that are passed through from federal monies. Projects to restore, protect or conserve water quality, quantity and aquatic habitat on identified waters are considered. Local governments, citizen groups, tribes and education facilities are often the recipients of these awards. Here are the awards for FY 2013 and FY 2014.

The 2001 Assessment notes the following:

Through Section 6217 of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, Alaska participates in the coastal non-point pollution program. The coastal non-point pollution program links a state's coastal management program with other state managed water quality programs. For example, the primary sister program is Section 319 (non-point pollution program) of the Clean Water Act, managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

In response to Section 6217 requirements, OPMP prepared the Alaska Coastal Clean Water Plan (1995), which has two major components. The first component is a set of management measures that address non-point pollution from land uses and for the protection and restoration of wetlands and riparian areas. The second component is a strategy for restoring degraded waters and developing additional management measures if the existing ones are not adequate to restore water quality.

To help achieve the federal Clean Water Action Plan objectives, several federal agencies were allocated additional funding. One of these agencies, NOAA, also funds the coastal management programs of participating states. Consequently, the Alaska Coastal Management Program benefits from the increased federal funds, which are dedicated to addressing coastal non-point pollution.

The myriad state and federal programs that address water quality in whole, in part, or in combination can be quite confusing. The Department of Environmental Conservation is developing the Alaska Clean Water Actions (ACWA) in partnership with DFG, DNR, and OPMP. ACWA is a plan to unite the public and private efforts to protect and restore Alaska's water resources through specific actions. The ACWA will focus efforts on Alaska's priorities and identify the role that the various state and federal programs play. Faced with state budget cuts, the goal is to avoid duplication of tasks, and to benefit from the synergy of these programs. The Enhancement Grants Program is one program that can contribute to that effort. The first priority will be for Alaska to complete development of the management measures and achieve federal approval of the Alaska Coastal Clean Water Plan. Enhancement grants projects that address coastal non-point source pollution should consider whether they address priority watersheds or categories identified through the Sec. 319 and Sec. 6217 program. This coordination will be assured through the efforts of ACWA.

Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program

The Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program (CNPCP), created by §6217 of the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990 (CZARA), is jointly administered by NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Two of the CNPCP’s key purposes are to strengthen the links between federal and state coastal zone management and water quality programs, and to enhance state and local efforts to manage land use activities that degrade coastal waters. NOAA and EPA must approve each state’s coastal nonpoint program. Alaska’s Coastal Nonpoint Program was conditionally approved in 1998.

Over the past several years, Alaska has provided two comprehensive submittals describing how it is addressing its remaining conditions (spring 2003 and fall 2005), as well as follow-up correspondence after the ACMP program changes. OCRM has issued two interim decision documents in response to the submittals (2003 and 2007). In summary, Alaska has fully met 19 out of the 22 initial conditions placed on the program. During this evaluation period, the State satisfied the forestry streamside management areas and monitoring conditions. DEC has the lead on the remaining conditions: new development, onsite sewage disposal system inspection, and roads, highways and bridges. In order to address the new development condition, DEC hired a contractor to develop a stormwater Best Management Practices manual. Since the site visit, the State submitted, and NOAA and EPA provided comments on, an outline of the manual which was expected to be completed in summer 2008. The State has also made progress in meeting the onsite sewage disposal system inspection and roads, highways and bridges conditions, although additional work is still needed for full approval.

There is some general information on the state's non-point source water pollution control program on the Division of Water website and in Alaska’s Nonpoint Source Water Pollution Control Strategy (2007).

The Alaska Senate approved a plan in April 2005 to take responsibility for permitting projects that discharge industrial wastewater in Alaska waters. The bill by former Gov. Frank Murkowski makes the state responsible for National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits now issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. The permits cover wastewater discharged from timber, mining and oil and gas projects as well as other industries covered by the federal Clean Water Act.

Appeals can put a project on hold for up to three years under the current (Federal) structure. Under state control the appeals would not stop a project from moving forward. The program requires hiring 13 new employees at the state Department of Environmental Conservation to take over the permitting responsibilities. A provision in the bill allows developers to suggest changes to their projects after the public hearing process has ended.

In July 2008 it was announced that the state had applied to the federal government for the authority to run a waste water permitting program designed to safeguard water quality in Alaska. Alaska is one of a handful of states that has not taken on permitting responsibilities under the 1972 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program authorized by the federal Clean Water Act. The others are Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Mexico. The program now run in Alaska by the Environmental Protection Agency issues permits to municipal, industrial and other facilities that discharge waste water into U.S. waters. The federal government welcomes the move by the state and the Department of Environmental Conservation to take over permitting. Instead of running the program in Alaska, the EPA would oversee it. The program covers a wide array of operations, including permits needed to run two drivers of the Alaska economy -- mining, and oil and gas operations.

If the state's application is approved, the permitting program would be phased in over several years. It will require the addition of 14 jobs and almost $1.7 million, putting the total program cost at about $4.8 million. The Legislature has already approved the money. The phase-in would be done in the following order: sewage, timber and seafood processing; federal facilities, mining, and oil and gas. The permits the state grants will be issued under the same standards used by the federal agency, said Lynn Kent, director for DEC's water division. Kent said having more local control of the permitting process will provide greater oversight in general. She said if people don't like the way the DEC is running the program, they can make their feelings known through the Legislature. A decision was expected by Nov. 1, 2008 following a 60-day comment period.

UPDATE: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on October 31, 2008 that it would hand off wastewater discharge permitting authority and enforcement in Alaska to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Alaska thereby joins 45 other states that oversee their own NPDES programs, following federal Clean Water Act rules. DEC now takes control over wastewater discharge permits for timber harvesting, seafood processing and domestic dischargers, such as municipalities. Existing permits from the EPA will turn into state permits. Over the next three years, in phases, the state will take over permitting of federal facilities in Alaska, stormwater, mining, and finally oil and gas permits, cooling water systems and other water discharge permits.

Level of Sewage Treatment

Sewage treatment in Anchorage occurs at the John M. Asplund Wastewater Treatment Facility at Point Woronzof. The Asplund plant was built in 1972 and is a primary treatment facility. Primary treatment consists of skimming off the oil, grease and floaters, scraping the heavy sludge from the bottom, and pumping the rest out an 800-foot-long pipe directly into Cook Inlet. The partially-treated wastewater is chlorinated to attempt to address odor issues and kill residual pathogens.

The Environmental Protection Agency has granted Anchorage years of waivers based on a 301(h) permit exempting the city from pertinent provisions of the Clean Water Act. The presumed basis of the exemption is that Upper Cook Inlet is already turbid from glacial silt and a little suspended fecal matter churned up by the tides won't make much difference. But it's not just a little. The Asplund facility pumps 32 million gallons of sewage into Cook Inlet every day. That's over 11 billion gallons a year.

Does discharging partially treated sewage make a difference in the natural environment? A central focus of this issue is the beluga whale. The beluga population has plummeted from 1,300 in 1979 to about 375 today. Although urban Native hunters and the oil platforms in the Inlet have been implicated in this decline, the National Board of Fisheries has cautiously yet clearly implicated Anchorage's fecal matter as a significant issue in the beluga's population decline. Upper Cook Inlet has a bathymetry that maximizes hunting skills of the beluga as they feed on fish, making it a critical habitat area. It's also the area into which Anchorage pumps its sewage.

According to the NMF, Kenai, Palmer, Soldotna, and Homer treat their wastewater to secondary standards using biological methods to decompose waste before it is returned to the natural environment. Eagle River and Girdwood sewage treatment facilities are capable of tertiary treatment rendering wastewater to almost drinkable quality. Anchorage stands alone as the city most befouling Cook Inlet.

Water Quality Contact (Runoff and Outfalls)

Chandra McGee

Matsu, Western
Laura Eldred

Kenai, Anchorage
Tim Stevens

Gretchen Pikul

Perception of Causes

Surface Water Quality

The vast majority of Alaska's watersheds, while not being monitored, are presumed to be in relatively pristine condition due to Alaska's size, sparse population, and general remoteness. However, Alaska has localized water pollution. Surface water quality has been found to be impaired or threatened from sources such as urban runoff (Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau), mining operations in the Interior and Northwest Alaska, seafood processing facilities in the Aleutian Islands, and forest products facilities in southeast Alaska.[1]

Regarding water quality impacts from mining, a controversial issue is a proposed copper and gold mine at the Pebble deposit in southwest Alaska. Pebble is located 15 miles from Nondalton in the headwaters of two of the five rivers that feed Bristol Bay's salmon runs. The bay lays claim to the world's biggest sockeye fishery and its tributaries a top destination for sportfishermen seeking rainbow trout. The estimated cost of building the massive Pebble copper and gold mine is $6 billion. The amount of power needed at Pebble is 600 to 700 megawatts, roughly equivalent to the amount of power used in Anchorage. In February 2011 the U.S. EPA announced that it would review the consequences of large-scale development projects, such as the proposed copper and gold Pebble mine, in the Bristol Bay watershed.

A separate mining project with potentially large and precedent-setting water pollution issues is the proposed Kensington gold mine. Environmental groups fear the permit for the Kensington mine, about 45 miles from Juneau, could gut the Clean Water Act. An Idaho-based mining company had planned to pile its leftover debris on a wetlands on the other side of the mountain from Berners Bay -- a solution embraced by environmentalists -- but has shifted to a cheaper alternative. Taking advantage of a little-publicized regulatory change adopted under the Bush administration in 2004, Coeur d'Alene Mines has obtained a federal permit to dump 4.5 million tons of tailings directly into a small sub-alpine lake near the mine, just above Berners Bay. Lower Slate Lake, whose deep indigo waters are home to about 1,000 Dolly Varden char and a small species of fish known as stickleback, will become a repository for 210,000 gallons a day of thick slurry, laced with aluminum, copper, lead and mercury -- enough to kill all the fish and raise the lake's bottom by 50 feet. Conservationists say the plan is unprecedented in 30 years of mining under the federal Clean Water Act. The U.S. Supreme Court was expected to rule on this in 2009.

Information on recent hazardous material spills and emergency response can be found at

In May 2010 the Alaska Clean Water Actions (ACWA) partnership between the Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Fish and Game, and Natural Resources awarded more than $377,000 in grants to assist the State in its clean water objectives and focus work efforts on waters in greatest need of protection and restoration. Projects to receive funding include the Gulkana Village Council. It will use funds to identify 18 unused wells in the village’s public water system to be decommissioned to help protect the drinking water source. The council will also develop outreach efforts to reduce impacts of residences and camping sites near wells. Another project will collect data at three locations on the Kenai River to establish naturally occurring background levels and manmade sources that cause turbidity. Turbidity is the cloudiness or haziness of water caused by suspended particles. It can harm fish fry and other wildlife. One project in Haines brings together the Takshanuk Watershed Council and the State’s Sport Fish Division. They will measure the amount of water flowing in Sawmill Creek and then set aside or reserve enough of water for healthy salmon runs. The remaining water would be available for possible industrial use. The project also aims to educate residents on ways to reduce impacts of nonpoint source pollution on the creek. More on municipal grants and loans.

Marine Debris

The 2001 Assessment also addresses the problem of marine debris:

The Coastal Clean Water Plan has drafted management measures for harbors and marinas. In 1995, a project conducted for OPMP compiled Best Management Practice (BMP) Examples for Harbor, Marina and Boat Operations and Maintenance for Alaska. These BMPs were officially endorsed by Alaska Harbor Masters. Regionalizing solid waste disposal may be necessary in order for MARPOL (The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) requirements to be met, as communities cannot afford to individually finance solid waste disposal sites, which will satisfy federal and State requirements. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council is funding a Prince William Sound Waste Management Plan. The plan identified used oil, municipal solid waste, recyclables, lead-acid batteries and other household hazardous wastes, and shore-based fish processing waste, as the major regional solid waste concerns. All of these wastes have the potential to end up on the beaches and waters of Prince William Sound. The management plan also identifies possible solutions to these problems. The BMPs were funded by NOAA Section 6217 funds and matching state funds provided by the Alaska Coastal Management Program.

State agencies periodically undertake education programs with a marine debris component. An example is the brochure on clean boater tips produced by the Alaska Coastal Management Program, Department of Fish and Game, US Coast Guard, and the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators. The brochure will be included with every vessel registration or renewal application, and is also distributed at the state's largest harbors. Staff work for the "clean boater" brochure was funded by NOAA Section 6217 and state matching funds.

The Alaska Coastal Management Program and the Department of Environmental Conservation jointly developed the Coastal Clean Water Plan in response to Sec. 6217 of the Coastal Zone Management Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990. Among other things, the plan addresses solid waste at harbors and marinas. Action items identified in the plan include 1) increasing boater awareness of the consequences of their actions, 2) holding workshops for harbormasters and marina owners on how to comply with MARPOL and DEC regulations, and 3) publishing Best Management Practices for harbor operation and maintenance. The Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish's Alaska Fly-Fishing Mentorship Program has developed "Angler Ethics." The publication includes a section on littering.

Section 6217 of the coastal zone management act stresses controlling non-point source pollution from a number of sources. One important and overlooked category in 6217 is harbor pollution that impacts local fish and shellfish resources. In Southeast Alaska, there is a real need for coastal districts to include control of pollution from harbors and marinas in their district plans. For example, tidal grids should not be permitted. Sanitary pump-out facilities should be required. All harbors need to have facilities for collection and proper disposal of contaminants such as used oil, antifreeze and batteries. The Department of Environmental Conservation received state FY99 funding to develop brochures for harbors in Southeast Alaska, which will address the issues associated with how to dispose of waste generated by boating and harbor activities. The brochures were distributed to harbormasters in 2000 and are designed so they can be adapted to other communities that wish to use them. This program needs to be expanded to other communities in Alaska. In 1998, OPMP developed Beach Cleanup Coordinator Kits and distributed them to each coastal district. To celebrate the Alaska "Year of the Ocean," beach cleanups were held throughout the state.

State statutes promoting recycling, waste reduction and anti-littering efforts have been in place since 1990. In addition, in 1996, the Governor signed an administrative order directing agencies to participate and promote the "Green Star" program. This program recognizes businesses and government agencies for their efforts to reduce and recycle wastes and conserve energy. Over 300 businesses and agencies are involved and the program is being replicated nationally. The Green Star program started in Alaska in 1990.

A number of programs are also in place at the local level. Most programs are focused on establishing collection systems to capture recyclables. We are not aware of any mandatory community recycling programs because of the high cost of transportation to recycling centers. Fish net recycling has been developed in the Southwest region of the state. Educational efforts have been developed at the local level as well. In the Bristol Bay region, a 1990 effort educated fish processors to provide education about MARPOL. Additionally, some efforts in the Bristol Bay region have been aimed toward developing recycling efforts, educating about federal requirements for landfills, and other activities.

Alaskan communities are forming regional groups to solve problems on a regional basis. One regional program that has started since the last assessment is the Prince William Sound Solid Waste Management Plan, which includes strategies on how to reduce marine pollution and solid waste. The state is a source of funds and technical assistance.

The 2011 Coastal Assessment and Strategy further discusses the Marine Debris issue, with a particular emphasis on derelict fishing gear. The Assessment also notes:

"...two non profits have taken the lead in statewide project organization. The MCA Foundation and the Center for Alaska Coastal Studies have addressed marine debris issues in Alaska. The former organizes large scale ‘industrial’ cleanups throughout the state collecting nearly 1.6 million pounds of debris from 52 projects, 23 of which took place in 2009. The Center for Alaska Coastal Studies organizes small scale community based cleanups combining local responsibility with cleanup and marine debris education."

Another non-profit working to address the problem of marine debris is Gulf of Alaska Keeper.

In February 2011 The Anchorage Daily News reported that over 400,000 pounds of marine debris was removed from Alaska's beaches in 2010. They quoted the Marine Conservation Alliance in saying that since 2003 over 2 million pounds of marine debris has been removed from Alaska coastlines.

Cruise Ship Discharges

Cruise ship discharges are another water quality problem in Alaska. Alaska has been working on several fronts - with Congress, in the Alaska legislature, and with the cruise ship industry - to reduce and regulate wastewater discharges from the fleet of cruise ships that carry a total of 45,000 passengers and crew daily through the inside waters of Southeast Alaska. Former Governor Tony Knowles urged Congress to include language in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act (HR 820) that strengthens the bill and addresses the impacts of cruise ship waste. Specific changes would prohibit the discharge of untreated sewage within inside waters or within a mile of shore or while a ship is at rest; allow for the establishment of effluent standards for treated sewage and "gray water"; give Alaska the authority to create a no discharge zone in environmentally sensitive areas; and allow Alaska, with the Coast Guard and EPA, to enforce the legislation.

EPA is assessing the need for additional standards for sewage and greywater discharges from large cruise ships operating in Alaska.

In November 2000, cruise ship executives met with the governor and agreed to his goal of preserving Alaska's clean water through regulation and monitoring of their marine wastewater discharges. The cruise ship representatives agreed to advocate for federal regulations and to voluntarily abide by the provisions in the meantime. Landmark cruise ship pollution legislation has passed through the Alaska legislature, following a special session held in June 2001. The bill provides for monitoring and enforcement of wastewater discharges, breaking ground by providing the first regulation ever passed by any state government on the content of gray water discharges. Cruise ship passengers will pay a $1 fee to pay for the state program, which will be implemented by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

In December 2004, Holland America Line Cruise Ships plead guilty to discharging 20,000 gallons of untreated sewage from one of its ships while docked in Juneau harbor. The company agreed to pay $200,000 in fines and $500,000 in restitution, plus spending $1.3 million on a plan to prevent a similar accident. The discharge occurred on August 17, 2002.

Unfortunately, regulations don't always translate into action. The Friends of the Earth "Environmental Roundup" newsletter from 11/21/2008 reported:

"...the state of Alaska enacted some of the strongest environmental protections for cruise ships in the country. Unfortunately, 60 percent of the cruise ships that traveled to Alaska this past summer failed to meet those standards and were cited for discharging water polluted with human waste and heavy metals. Fifty percent of those cited cruise ships had multiple violations."

Additional information on cruise ship waste disposal and management can be found on ADEC's Website at:
On this site you will find information concerning a Large Commercial Passenger Vessel Wastewater Discharge General Permit that was published on April 8, 2014. The biggest difference in the DEC’s current cruise ship permit and the new one is the way it regulates water quality after a boat discharges wastewater into the ocean. Under the proposed permit, there are two ways of judging how waste is mixed with ocean water: if it’s discharged while the boat is traveling at 6 knots or faster, or if it’s discharged while the boat is traveling at less than 6 knots or is stationary. The four chemicals released in cruise ship wastewater that pose the most risk are ammonia, dissolved copper, dissolved nickel and dissolved zinc. The DEC monitors those chemicals specifically. Through the proposed permit, ships must also monitor wastewater and send in samples to the DEC.

Other Ocean/Harbor Water Quality Issues

Alaska participated in negotiations and agreements on an international treaty to ban 12 highly toxic chemicals. The treaty will restrict the production and use of twelve persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including pesticides, PCBs and other contaminants. Delegates from more than 100 countries participated in the negotiations. Alaska's team sought recognition of the vulnerability of Alaska ecosystems and especially of Indigenous peoples; commitment to ultimate elimination of POPs production and trade, destruction of stockpiles, and safe waste handling; comprehensive monitoring and research action plan with full reporting; process for early identification of the POPs and a protective strategy; and support of financial and technical assistance for developing countries to assure compliance and ultimate elimination. Former Governor Knowles also appointed a cabinet-level team to address the issue and he worked with the national Pew Oceans Commission and with federal agencies to encourage research and monitoring of the Arctic environment. The treaty was scheduled for a signing ceremony in May 2001 in Sweden and will take effect after it is ratified by 50 nations.

In general, Alaskan harbors with more than 100 vessels have MARPOL disposal services. Harbors without collection facilities have signs indicating that dumping is not allowed, or that MARPOL services are not available. According to the respondents of the 1995 Alaska Harbor Management System survey, 36 out of about 102 harbors have one or more MARPOL services. Batteries, nets, aluminum, copper and other materials are recycled at 26 facilities. In order to reduce pollutants entering Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has funded three programs to stop marine pollution at its source. New environmental operating stations are in place in Cordova, Valdez, Tatilek, Chenega Bay, and Whittier. Similar projects are being developed for Kodiak Island communities and three lower Cook Inlet communities. These programs provide facilities and services to properly dispose of used oil, household hazardous waste and scrap metals. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) funded the preparation of a Small Harbor Refuse Guide for the Aleutians East Borough in late 1993. The manual provides guidelines for the operation and management of marine refuse reception facilities at the borough's four harbors.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) published a report "State of the Sound" in July 2003 that discusses five primary human uses and activities in Prince William Sound, and presents sixteen indicators to provide a gauge of overall ecosystem health. The indicators include environmental quality, which was further broken down into water quality, acoustic quality, wilderness quality, intertidal habitat and upland habitat. NWF notes that "There is a paucity of information about É water quality, although with the exception of some point sources of pollution and specific areas, quality is generally considered high. Monitoring is necessary to establish baseline information and trends for each pollutant." The report's recommendations relative to water quality include:

  • Fully fund and implement the Gulf Environmental Monitoring (GEM) program currently proposed by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council staff.
  • Ratify the U.N. Stockholm Convention to eliminate Persistent Organic Pollutants ("POPs").
  • Begin a comprehensive water quality monitoring effort to establish baseline data at numerous locations throughout the region.
  • Test water quality at each harbor and evaluate efficacy of harbor pollution control facilities; assess and prioritize needs to achieve clean harbors.
  • Identify point sources of water pollution in the Sound and assure compliance with legally-issued Clean Water Act permits.
  • Designate Prince William Sound as a no discharge zone for cruise ships.
  • Reduce the threat of invasive species by requiring vessels to exchange ballast water at sea before arriving at Prince William Sound ports; continue to seek more effective strategies to combat this threat.
  • Expedite the phase-out of single-hulled oil tankers, and replace with modern double-hulled tankers with "redundant" systems (twin engines, rudders, etc.).
  • Lower the threshold at which oil shipping is suspended due to inclement weather.

Surfrider Foundation supports these recommendations.

Public Education

Some public education information is available on DEC's Division of Water website. Also see here.

The United States Geological Survey maintains a Water Resources Website for Alaska. This site is a valuable source of information including current projects, online reports, publications, maps, real-time water conditions, and educational outreach material for teachers and students. You can contact USGS [ here].

NOAA's work regarding marine debris in Alaska is described here.

General Reference Documents

EPA has compiled several NPS (Nonpoint Source) Outreach Products that are a selection of television, radio, and print products on nonpoint source pollution that have been developed by various agencies and organizations around the country. They are good examples of outreach in the mass media. Also see What You Can Do.

NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, International City/County Management Association and Rhode Island Sea Grant, has released an interagency guide that adapts smart growth principles to the unique needs of coastal and waterfront communities. Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities builds on existing smart growth principles to offer 10 coastal and waterfront-specific guidelines that help manage development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues.


State of the Beach Report: Alaska
Alaska Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
2011 7 SOTB Banner Small.jpg