High Water, Ice, And An Abandoned Barge Coming Down Kuskokwim

May 5, 2020

Ice continues to move down the Kuskokwim River past Bethel on May 5, 2020 at 11:30 a.m.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

Most places on the Kuskokwim River are not experiencing major flooding, but the ice is moving fast and the water is high. On May 5, Napaskiak resident Earl Samuelson warned that people need to keep an eye out for high water.

“Talking to people in Tuluksak, there is bank to bank ice that still has to come down. And I don’t know what it’s going to bring because Tuluksak was saying that water levels rose 2 feet since this morning, and some of that water is starting to back up with some ice in the Tuluksak Slough right there,” said Samuelson.

There is plenty of water everywhere on the Kuksokwim. Samuelson pointed out that while there is no ice jam below Kalskag, the area around the high school road was still underwater. As of the afternoon of May 5, the water had dropped about 6 inches and vehicles could drive on it. Samuelson said that there is plenty of ice further down the river, more is coming, and it will take a few days to clear out.

“A lot of activity happened last night and this morning,” said Samuelson on May 5. “We want to get the word out there that this whole Kuskokwim, from Tuluksak to Napakiak, has ice flow in it, and it might take a day or two before it all clears out.”

How fast is the ice moving? Samuelson figures that the abandoned Alaska Logistics barge that has been traveling with the broken ice is a good indicator. At 10:30 p.m. on May 4, that loaded gravel barge was passing Bogus Creek. At 6 a.m. on May 5, the barge had passed Akiak.

“Just looking at the calculations there, that’s about a 7 or 8 hour run just from Bogus to Akiak, and that’s an indicator that ice is moving fast,” Samuelson said.

Samuelson underscored that the threat this spring is not just the ice, but the water as well. He advised people to wait until the water goes down a bit before getting out on the river. 

“Akiak may have high water, even though it is moving fast. Same way with us down here in Bethel, and Kwethluk, and Napaskiak, and Oscarville. Just because the mainstream Kuskokwim is already so high. We’re just going to have to let, this time, let this water drain out. And it will take its time. Might take a few, more than one or two days to drain out,” said Samuelson.

There is quite a bit of firewood being brought down by the ice, but Samuelson warns people to wait until the water clears a bit before getting into boats. He says that he knows of at least one group of people who have gotten stuck when ice moved in.