Open Water At Red Devil And Napaimute; Downstream Kuskokwim River Ice Holding As It Rots

Apr 30, 2018

Sheets of thin, rotten Kuskokwim River ice have beached near Napaimute on April 30, 2018. The white marks on the ice pick sit 12 inches apart.
Credit Mark Leary / Native Village of Napaimute

Breakup along the Upper Kuskokwim River is happening in sections rather than a crashing cascade from the headwaters. The river by Red Devil and Napaimute is open, but between those villages, ice is jammed by Crooked Creek and Georgetown. From Chuathbaluk downriver, the ice is holding for now.

Sunday afternoon by Red Devil, the ice began moving and the water level rising. Soon after midnight, roads and low areas of the village flooded. 

"I had water in my front yard and [it] appeared to be coming from the back of the village," Red Devil Runway Manager Rebecca Wilmarth wrote in an email to KYUK.

But by 8 o’clock this morning, the water had returned to the river’s banks. Wilmarth writes that “any more surges of ice will push the water over.” Now, the community is under a flood warning.

The water is being held high by an ice jam downstream between Crooked Creek and Georgetown, but by Napaimute, the next village downriver, the river is open again. Mark Leary, who’s camped in Napaimute, says that as of Monday morning, the river has been open for 48 hours. Once in a while, big ice sheets float by.

“I mean big," Leary said. "One yesterday came down, and when it turned sideways, it touched both banks of the river.”

Some of those sheets carry remnants of the Kuskokwim Ice Road with the markers still standing on top. The water is barely moving and sometimes seems to stop. That’s because the ice is holding downriver by Chuathbaluk.

“We expect probably something pretty soon," said Chuathbaluk river monitor Eric Morgan, "because all the ice along the beach is starting to pop up, so it’s getting more current now.”

With all the rain over the last two days, Morgan predicts that the current will sweep the ice away. Already it’s dark with needle rot and holes have opened near sandbars. Once the ice clears at Chuathbaluk, Aniak's Carl Morgan says that the river near his village will follow. The south side of the Aniak River is alredy ice-free.

“As far as I can see downriver, until it makes the bend, it’s wide open,” he said.

The north side is holding, but dark with rot. From Aniak downriver, the ice, though decaying, is staying in place. Search and Rescue groups warn that no travel should be happening anywhere on the Kuskokwim.