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.
These photos are the last of the ones Jack took from when the road was in bad condition. It’s much improved now, to the point where Jack says there’s nothing to take photos of. When the melt starts up there though, who knows what will happen.
April 16th, Jack is heading out of Prudhoe. It was a cloudy morning.
The excavator is moving snow and slush away from the road to keep the water flowing to where they want it to go.
That’s all trucks waiting to get into Prudhoe.
This is the next day, heading back into Prudhoe.
These excavators are digging ditches and creating berms to hold the water back. Overflow from the Sag River has been harassing truckers and the State of Alaska for weeks before this.
Jack says this guy is scraping back the ice to find the road.
The delineator is about 5 feet tall so this shows how high the water got before it froze.
This photo is grainy, but you can see the left delineators showing a lot more than the others.
Here are the rest of the photos from when Jack drove through the flooded area, the portion of the road that was recently closed because of the overflow of the Sag River onto the Dalton. There is a HUGE tracked vehicle that Jack says can float! I can’t see how that’s possible but supposedly, if it breaks through the ice, it won’t sink to the bottom of whatever it is on. In his case it’s a matter of a few feet to the ground. But it’s just hard to imagine either way.
Click on the first one and scroll to the right.
Jack is heading toward Prudhoe so the Sag River overflow is coming from the right.
This is the tracked vehicle that Jack says can float. He called it an excavator with float tracks but it probably has a specific name.
You can see multiple berms created by the excavators.
This plowing equipment is the State of Alaska’s – they are still there plowing the road. They take care of the road and the private contractors take care of the flooding.
Coming up on the line that is heading out of Prudhoe.
Jack is on the other side of the flooded area now. This is what the road is supposed to look like at this time of year.
These photos are from when Jack was stuck at the road closure. He was waiting there 3 days to get unloaded. As you can see, it was a beautiful couple of days, albeit cold ones. The rigs in the distance are tractor-like vehicles on tracks with tanks to take the fuel Jack and the other truckers are hauling back to Prudhoe. The road is now open during the day. Click on the first and scroll to the right. More info on the captions.
Jack finds a high perch to get a better view of the offloading up ahead.
He said this photo was an accident but I thought it was interesting since it shows what he was standing on.
Jack took a panoramic shot which makes it look like the road is curved. It’s actually straight.
Jack and several other truckers waited there over 70 hours.
What a beautiful day! A cold one though, since it was only about 10 degrees and the wind was brisk.
These tankers were running back and forth to Prudhoe, transferring the fuel the trucks are carrying while the road was closed.
Jack says each of these tankers on the left carry about 2500 gallons. He carries 10,000 if he is full.
This one can carry 2500 each tank.
Jack was hoping this guy was coming to unload him but no, he must have been going to fill up some other vehicles and equipment down the road.