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Napaimute Ice Jam Still Holding, Threatening Flooding In Villages

May 3, 2020

Ice jam below Lower Kalskag at Coffee's Bend on May 3, 2020.
Credit Courtesy of the National Weather Service

The ice jam near Napaimute is still holding, and villages below Napaimute should brace for flooding if the ice jam releases quickly, according to the latest River Watch report.

The National Weather Service flew the Kuskokwim River twice on Sunday, May 3 to survey ice conditions and monitor flooding in Upper and Lower Kalskag.

The ice has mostly cleared out from Chuathbaluk down to Lower Kalskag, but a medium-sized ice jam remains at Coffee’s Bend, roughly two miles downriver from Lower Kalskag. So far, water is slowly receding or holding steady in both villages. The power plant remains operating.

“A lot of ice has moved out in the last 24 hours,” said Celine Van Breukelen, a NWS senior service hydrologist. “We’ve made a lot of progress in opening the river.”

Van Breukelen said that the ice is weakening close to Tuluksak, which means that the rising water will not be as dangerous to villages once the Napaimute ice jam breaks.

“If all this downriver ice flushes out before the Napaimute jam [breaks], it probably will cause some high water and cause some flooding, but it would not be nearly as severe if you have ice near your village,” Van Breukelen said.

On May 3, NWS issued a flood watch, effective through May 6, for the villages below Tuluksak, which include Akiak, Akiachak, Kwethluk, and Bethel. Akiak is reporting high water and bank-to-bank ice. One resident says that the water is roughly 2 feet from going over the river bank at its lowest point. Once it tops the bank, the community will start evacuating residents near that part of the village.

Meanwhile, Van Breukelen noticed a sheet of white ice above Napaskiak that could pose a problem for the village, but she said that it could become less of a concern as warm temperatures continue weakening ice on the Kuskokwim River and its tributaries.

Napaskiak resident Earl Samuelson reported that there is still ice in front of the village, but the Johnson River ice is noticeably weakening.