The source of the University Lake oil spill in Anchorage remains unknown as the cleanup continues

State officials said they have not yet identified the source of an oil spill that polluted a lake at a popular off-leash dog park in Anchorage as cleanup efforts continued Thursday.

The municipality closed University Lake Park Wednesday as the size of the sheen on the lake appeared to increase. The water on the southwest side of the lake had an iridescent sheen Thursday morning and the smell of petroleum was in the air.

The spill, first reported June 21, is still estimated at 20 gallons, despite the size of the sheen growing Wednesday, said Kelly Rawalt, a public information officer at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

They’re still trying to discern whether the actual oil is entering the lake or it’s just from the surrounding sediments, and if so, it probably isn’t much, if so, Rawalt said.

It’s hard to tell exactly how much oil was spilled because the source is unknown, Rawalt said, but the estimate is calculated by looking at the size and thickness of the sheen. Twenty gallons is a high estimate, he said.

The oil made its way into the area through a device in a city drainage system that separates the oil from the runoff water before the water is discharged into the lake. The device had overflowed due to frequent rain in recent weeks and malfunctioned ejecting the oil into the lake instead of washing it away, he said.

The municipality is monitoring the device for further problems, Rawalt said.

DEC is working with the city and the Environmental Protection Agency to trace the source of the oil. They are running back through the drainage system and testing the oil at various points to determine where it came from, Rawalt said.

Cleanup efforts began last week when a barrier was placed around the contaminated water to help contain and absorb the oil. Workers placed further barriers Wednesday as the sheen grew in size.

Workers vacuumed the surface of the water on Thursday morning to extract the oil from the lake. A skimmer device was also placed in the lake to help filter the oil.

Officials from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are also monitoring the area. There were no birds in the spill area Thursday morning, said Angela Matz, Alaska spill response coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service. If birds approach the area, they fog them to deter them from approaching, she said. A biologist kayaked a duck and her ducklings away from the spill area on Thursday.

Anyone who sees wildlife that they believe may have been affected by the oil is encouraged to call the EPA’s National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

There is no estimate of how long the cleanup could take, Rawalt said.

There is also no date for the park to reopen, a spokesperson for the municipal parks department said. Warning tape blocked access to the polluted water and entrances were blocked by orange plastic fencing with signs advising people not to enter Thursday morning.

We’re all trying to make decisions to make sure that when people return to the park they can safely enjoy it and that their dogs can and the wildlife can, Rawalt said.


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