Recently Fairbanks and the surrounding areas have been getting a lot of rain. So when Jack and I visited the Chena Dam the other day the floodgates had been lowered in order to prevent high water from flowing downstream toward Fairbanks. This results in the river backing up into the reservoir area behind the dam but saves Fairbanks as it has many times since it was built almost 40 years ago.
Dermot Cole of Alaska Dispatch News wrote in 2014 when the floodgates were lowered then that Fairbanks’ “most effective flood insurance policy … takes the form of an unusual dam with four 30-ton gates that operate like giant garage doors, stemming the flow of high water when the river rises. The floodgates are one element in an extensive federal flood control project that cost a quarter-billion dollars by the time of its completion in 1979.”
Click on the first photo and scroll to the right to read the captions.
This is the reservoir (floodway) that is now filled because the floodgates were lowered.
A little bit of green is still above water.
That’s our rig in the parking lot where you can access the top of the levee.
This shows Jack standing on the 7 mile long “Moose Creek Dam,” the levee.
The floodgates are in the top right corner of this map. We were a mile or two away from them on what’s labeled here as the Moose Creek Dam, the long straight levee that leads to the Tanana River. Map from US Army Corps of Engineers.
Here are the floodgates.
Another map, also from the US Army Corps of Engineers website. It shows a more realistic perspective of the whole setup.
On the opposite bank there’s debris that’s been picked out of the water on the other side of the floodgates.
Looking toward Fairbanks.
This is a terrific area with tons of biking/walking trails, boat rentals, a beach, camping, etc. There are day use volunteer hosts who take care of this lovely place.
Not everyone gets to see the floodgates being used on such a beautiful day. We’d be willing to bet that most Fairbanksans haven’t even been here.
From top to bottom they say: “Tanana River 40 miles”, “Yukon River 250 miles” and “Spawning Grounds next 35 miles.” Kings actually run through here as well as chum salmon and you can view them from the floodgates when they finally get here from the ocean each summer. I love the artwork but the salmon look more like silvers and pinks than kings and chum. 🙂
Now we’re on the other side of the floodgates looking down to the reservoir.
Volunteers maintain this area for wildlife, cutting hay, putting up nest boxes, burning to keep the brush low.
Not all of the hay got moved before the flood.
The sign shows the high water mark which was in 1992, the only time overflow water made it all the way to the Tanana River.
This is the side of the Chena River floodgates where water is building up and you can see tons of debris that has to be picked out by the crane. They sometimes offer it to the public for firewood.
This dam handles water coming from 1500 square miles of drainage.
According to adn.com, Fairbanks used to flood every 5th spring or so and this was actually desired so that barges could make it farther upstream. Fairbanks was founded by PT Barnette when he was stranded because of low water and a year later he struck gold.
At the end of a walkway that juts into the floodway someone has placed a beautiful memorial bench to someone named Joyce.
For more info: a slideshow on the Army Corp website and this pamphlet for a little more in depth information.
Thank you for the updates. The photos are incredible! Hugs to all. -V
Thanks so much for sharing these photos & info Judy & Jack. Stay Safe
Thanks for the great pictures.
Before this was built it was a very controversial project because of the high cost to build it and many thought the Corps of Engineers plans would not work. If you lived through the flood of 67 you would really appreciate this project since Fairbanks suffered a devastating flood at that time with millions of dollars in lost property and possessions. After that flood the common practice of building split entry homes changed because of the high cost of flood insurance so ranches and two stories became more common. Today this project protects the City of Fairbanks and surrounding area from needing flood insurance unless you are in a particular area that is not protected. Great photos Jack and Judy.
I didn’t realize this was the reason the Fairbanks area doesn’t need flood insurance. Thanks for the details! Several people actually died in the flood of 1967 too.
Thank you Judy and Jack for sharing the pictures. We enjoyed looking at them.
Charles & Linda Rogers
Further flood protection measures would rely on the City upgrading its stormwater pipe-work and tide gates, creating neighbourhood dry-wells and cisterns, and developing its ‘green infrastructure’, such as greenways, levees and detention ponds. A longer term vision involves elevating whole neighbourhoods at a time, with roads, infrastructure and terrain being raised along with houses, to a new safe level, or installing a large-scale flood barrier. This would obviously be extremely costly and financial mechanisms for collecting the necessary resources would be complex. San Diego Water Damage
thanks for the info and yes, too expensive.