Noyes Slough, Fairbanks
|Summary Date: September 2008|
Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
|See DEC Brownfields Webpage|
| DEC Contaminated Sites Contact: Sonja Benson, Brownfield Program Specialist (907) 451-2156
Noyes Slough looking downstream after flow ceased in midsummer 2000, at West Johansen Expressway bridge. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey)
Noyes Slough is a five-mile stretch of slow-moving water, meandering through the northern parts of the City of Fairbanks. It branches off the Chena River about 500 feet downstream from the Wendell Street Bridge, rejoining the Chena just upstream from the University Avenue bridge. The water is often stagnant, and receives contaminants of many kinds owing largely to its urban setting.
The slough has been on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 303(D) List of Impaired Water Bodies since 1994. Restoration efforts have occurred intermittently over the past 30 years, including studies on the quality of the slough’s water, sediments, and fish habitat, cleanup activities, and dredging of the slough channel.
Before 1945, the Tanana and Chena Rivers contributed water to Noyes Slough during times of high flow. Flood control measures taken for those rivers since 1945 have reduced flow to the slough so that the primary source of water in the slough is now groundwater and runoff from storm drains, with almost no flushing occurring at high river stages.
The city and borough, community groups, and state and federal agencies have been concerned about the slough and its potential contamination and hydrological problems for years. These groups also share the goal of restoring and enhancing valuable fish habitat in Noyes Slough. Grass-roots organizations, such as the Noyes Slough Action Committee, and K-12 school groups, such as the Noyes Slough Project, established by students at Anne Wien Elementary School, helped bring the environmental problems to the public’s attention several years ago. Moreover, a significant amount of environmental data have already been collected as part of previous assessments. Cleanup efforts carried out by the elementary school students, the Noyes Slough Action Committee, neighborhood groups, and government agencies have resulted in the slough's being much cleaner than it was years ago, but a great deal of work remains to be done. In general, many people in Fairbanks believe the slough is a special place worthy of being restored, and most envision a future of clean, flowing water for both recreation and wildlife habitat.
The Tanana Valley Watershed Association is spearheading the effort to revitalize Noyes Slough. The slough's central location gives it much potential for being a readily accessible and scenic canoe trail right through town. Aside from the establishment of a canoe trail, the slough has many other possibilities. In general, the long-term goals of the revitalization are to increase the number of days of free-flowing water in the slough each year, to improve the waterway for better fish and wildlife habitat, and to enhance year-round community recreational use, such as:
Winter bike and running trail
Adjacent parks for picnic and recreation areas
Wildlife watching and photography
Fish rearing and spawning habitat
Educational site for elementary, secondary, and university students
The virtual lack of water flow and construction of dams by numerous beaver "engineers" has made much of the slough stagnant and impassable. Historically, Noyes Slough has seen environmentally "unfriendly" waste handling practices and open dumping, and the slough is currently listed as an impaired water body with DEC and EPA for sediment, petroleum hydrocarbons, oil and grease, and residues. Thus, the options for future use of the slough are limited without some sort of action toward restoration.
This large and ambitious project will require a number of separate efforts, including various sources of funding and a public involvement effort. The steps along the way will include:
Information gathering and assessment
Refinement of goals, including community involvement or sounding of public opinion
Addressing contamination and dredging parts of the slough
Management of beaver dams
On-going maintenance and operation of the community resource
Public Health and Environmental Concerns
The people most likely to be exposed to slough water or sediments are those using the slough for recreation. Boating, occasional fishing, and wading are possible along the slough today; these activities would probably increase if the slough were dredged to accommodate a canoe trail. Volunteers, including school children, participate in slough cleanup days and slough-related natural science projects. People using the slough may be exposed to contaminants by accidentally ingesting slough water, skin contact with slough water, and skin contact with slough sediments. If people consume fish from the slough, or if dredging returned more edible fish to the slough, consuming contaminated fish could be another human exposure route.
Plants and animals may be exposed to contamination through contact with or ingestion of the slough water, sediments, or through food sources living in the slough (such as invertebrates). Concern increases for aquatic organisms and for organisms that are trophically elevated (higher on the food chain) and may accumulate certain contaminants in their tissues.
DEC brownfield staff worked closely with the Tanana Valley Watershed Association on its successful request for a Targeted Brownfield Assessment from the EPA to facilitate a systematic planning approach to study the potential for revitalization of the slough as a community asset and recreational resource. EPA officials began the assessment by meeting with the watershed association, other interested citizens, and city and state resource agency staff in the spring of 2007. The Triad planning process used was facilitated by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff. Comprehensive and upfront planning, with key stakeholder involvement, is essential to designing and implementing any successful environmental restoration of Noyes Slough. Input from stakeholders will continue to be critical to balancing the diverse range of goals and options for the future of the slough.
DEC also funded a review of past environmental research on Noyes Slough and identification of areas where contaminants have been documented in the past and areas of concern for future sampling. This analysis also discussed ways in which people, plants and animals could be exposed to contamination.
EPA's Targeted Brownfield Assessment will continue with development of a sampling plan and sampling, based on the information DEC has provided. With the benefit of more data, other work can continue more effectively. The next steps will be to identify key shallow areas to be dredged and options for disposal of the dredged material, given that sediments could be contaminated. In addition to this assessment work, residents of properties located along the slough will be surveyed to ascertain their opinions on increasing flow in the slough and their thoughts on the future of the slough.
More Information, Recent Reports
Assessment of Fish Habitat, Water Quality, and Selected Contaminants in Streambed Sediments in Noyes Slough, Fairbanks, Alaska 2001-2002, U.S. Geological Survey, 2004. (PDF 3.7MB)
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