KENAI - Boating season is just around the bend, but power boaters should be aware of some new regulations on the Kenai River for this season.
"They went into effect on March 1, 2008," said Jack Sinclair, Alaska Division of Parks Superintendent for the Kenai/Prince William Sound Area.
The new State Park regulations are intended to address excess hydrocarbons in the river, which in the past have been found at such high levels - particularly throughout the month of July, exclusively during days when powerboats were on the river - that in 2006 the lower 19 miles of the Kenai River was declared an "impaired water body" by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
However, Sinclair said "We saw the need to keep the whole river clean, not just where we saw excesses."
The new regulations will allow outboard motor size to increase from 35 horsepower to 50 horsepower in the Kenai River Special Management Area (KRSMA), and make it illegal to have a motor with a total horsepower rating greater than 50 horsepower (except for Kenai and Skilak Lakes).
"The reasoning behind this change is to allow boats that are commonly used on the Kenai River - especially in the lower river - to operate more efficiently and produce smaller wakes that will be less destructive on river banks," Sinclair said. "It is important to note that this greater efficiency will be lost if boaters overload their boats. The should be kept as light as possible and operated at a safe speed for the conditions."
In addition to the horsepower increase, regulations also require all motors used in the month of July to be either a four-stroke or a cleaner direct fuel injected (DFI) two-stroke motor, and any motor that exceeds 35 horsepower to be a four-stroke or DFI two-stroke.
"This includes the waters of Kenai and Skilak Lakes," Sinclair said.
According to Sinclair, this new regulation was created to remove the single most polluting element that affects the river: the carbureted two-stroke motor.
"Larger two-stroke motors exhaust proportionally greater amounts of fuel into the water than smaller outboards, so all motors larger than 35 must conform to the cleaner burning motor types," he said.
"The state standard for hydrocarbon levels is set to protect aquatic life, including aquatic insects and fish," Sinclair said. "Protecting the bottom of the food chain and juvenile fish is critical for continuing the Kenai River's productivity, and why it is so critical that the unbridled use of older two-stroke motors is curtailed."
In regard to what constitutes a cleaner motor type, Sinclair said all four-stroke motors qualify, as well as the newer generation two stroke-motors that use direct fuel injection technology currently manufactured by Evinrude, Nissan and Tohatsu. A DFI motor should not be confused with the older, electronic fuel injected (EFI) two-stroke motors.
"EFI motors are not approved for use in July," he said.
Also, all owners of boats with motors operated within the KRSMA that exceed 35 horsepower and all motors that operate during the month of July will need to obtain a decal for their motor. These will be issued by Kenai River State Park Rangers.
"These small red decals will be applied to the rear of the cowling of the motor by the ranger," Sinclair said. "This will allow the ranger to verify that the motor is indeed a four-stroke or DFI two-stroke motor. These decals can be issued in the field, normally at the state park boat launches, but they can also be issued after a person is under way on the river."
The new regulations also require that no power boat may be used within the KRSMA that is in excess of 21 feet in length or 8 feet, 10 inches in width, without a permit. This boat size limit does not apply on Kenai and Skilak Lakes, though.