The governor has a big decision to make about the Eklutna River and hydro project. Here’s what to know. 

A gray concrete building labeled Eklutna Power Plant along a snowy road
The Eklutna Power Plant, pictured here on March 1, 2024, is located on the Old Glenn Highway along the Knik River. Water from Eklutna Lake is piped to the plant, where enough electricity is generated to power about 25,000 Anchorage and Mat-Su homes. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

There’s been a flurry of developments in the last few weeks around a proposal to reverse some ecological damage caused by damming up the Eklutna River near Anchorage decades ago.  

The owners of the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project, which relies on that dammed up water to generate reliable, clean electricity for about 25,000 homes, sent their final pitch on April 25 to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for review and approval, but not all of the stakeholders agree with the proposal.

Here’s what to know. 

What does the proposal say?

The proposal package is hundreds of pages long with a lot of science, engineering and analysis. But basically, as things stand now, there’s about a 90-10 split of the available water in Eklutna Lake: 90% goes to power generation and 10% becomes tap water. And most of the Eklutna River is dry. 

The plan before the governor would cut a third slice into that pie from power generation, putting about 10% of the water into the Eklutna River. It would keep most of the river flowing year-round.

This plan relies on an existing tunnel that pipes water to the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility’s Eklutna Water Treatment Facility. Anchorage gets about 90% of its drinking water from here. 

There’s a connection point in this tunnel and pipeline system called a portal valve that’s about a mile downstream from the dam. The electric utilities want to install some new infrastructure around this portal valve that would keep the city’s water supply whole, but also release water on the surface, partially restoring the dry river. 

Why is this so controversial?

There’s about a hundred years of backstory. 

The most immediate, big picture issue is that a lot of different parties want that water. The process playing out now was set up in a deal made in the 1990s to help the federal government privatize the hydro project.

That deal says the governor has to give “equal consideration” to eight different interests. The big ones are power generation, the city’s drinking water supply and wildlife, especially salmon that used to spawn in Eklutna River and Eklutna Lake.

The utilities developed the plan, and they say it restores a lot of fish habitat on the river and strikes a good balance with all the other stakeholders

Do those other stakeholders agree? 


The utilities’ portal valve plan leaves about a mile of the river dry, keeping fish from coming and going to the lake and its tributaries. 

The leadership of the Native Village of Eklutna, the Anchorage Assembly and conservation and wildlife interests want to fully restore the river. They’ve even supported fully removing the dam to let fish reach Eklutna Lake and its tributaries. 

Within the city, there’s also a related, messy conflict between the Assembly and Mayor Dave Bronson, who supports the utilities.

When did the dam get there in the first place?

It goes back to a businessman in the 1920s who did it without addressing the literal downstream consequences. The fish were largely cut off. What remained of the river became a lot less productive, and Eklutna lost a resource that was interwoven with its culture and economy. This historic injury looms over everything. 

A new dam was built in the 1950s higher upriver, near the natural outlet of the lake to the river. After the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, it was rebuilt taller. That’s the current dam. 

The original dam was abandoned. The Conservation Fund partnered with Eklutna and paid to have the original dam removed in 2018

It’s worth noting Eklutna Lake isn’t manmade – it would exist without the dam. Power generation would still be possible if it were removed, but at reduced capacity and less reliably. In this scenario, the utilities think the power plant would also have to go idle for up to seven months a year. They’ve indicated the economics probably wouldn’t pencil out anymore, and it would likely be decommissioned.

A narrow lake among snow-capped mountains
Eklutna Lake is tucked into the Chugach Mountains not far from Anchorage. (Abbey Collins/Alaska Public Media)

But, between the utilities releasing their draft plan in October 2023, and the final plan they sent to the governor, the utilities did make some changes to create a potential path to build infrastructure later for fish to come and go from the lake. 

Are there any alternatives to the utilities’ plan?

The utilities studied a lot of different options, weighing out pros and cons, costs and benefits. That analysis is part of the plan documents. 

Outside of that process, the Native Village of Eklutna recently pitched a new proposal of its own. They want to build new infrastructure that would let fish pass the dam. Village officials claim the cost would be in the same ballpark as the utilities’ proposal, and that their plan could stand alone, or complement the utilities’ plan. The village president said the pitch got a very cool reception from the utilities. 

What happens next? 

The governor is in a comment period that’s limited to the parties to the privatization agreement from 1991, which includes two federal fish and wildlife agencies, the state and the city. They have until June 24 to try to sway the governor. Then there’s a 30-day response period for the plan’s authors. 

The governor has an Oct. 2 deadline to review the plan, comments and any alternatives, and to try to smooth out disagreements. 

Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for the governor, said the office is analyzing the proposal, and leaning on subject matter experts in the state Department of Natural Resources for technical advice. 

But a lot of other things could happen outside of the governor’s process. 

For one, the Anchorage Assembly has fundamental problems with how the plan came together, the local tax dollars it seems to commit without its approval, and the owners group’s use of confidentiality for processes the Assembly thinks should have been public. 

The city is actually the majority owner of the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project, but Chugach Electric Association and Matanuska Electric Association control it because of some complicated regulatory issues and division between the Assembly and Bronson administration. 
Chair Chris Constant said recently that the Assembly is trying to do everything it can to assert itself before taking the utilities to court.

And on his podcast, Nat Herz of the Northern Journal recently asked Aaron Leggett, the president of the Native Village of Eklutna:

“Is there definitely going to be a lawsuit, would you say?”

Leggett didn’t say anything. After a long pause, Herz laughed and said, “That’s a great answer, actually.”

Where can I learn more? 

The owners group publishes its materials about the process at this website:

A coalition aligned with Eklutna publishes its own information here:

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him at or 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremy here.

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