'Napaimute Wave' Of High Water Heading Down Kuskokwim River

May 6, 2020

An ice pack builds up in front of Bethel, Alaska on May 5, 2020.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

Break up continues on the Kuskokwim River. Napaskiak resident and river observer Earl Samuelson has been tracking the ice and water levels on the Kuskokwim River, and he says that people need to brace themselves for more high water heading downstream. 

Samuelson said that behind the ice that broke free of Napaimute earlier this week is a wave of high water following it, which even has even a name.

“We’re calling it the 'Napaimute Wave,'” Samuelson said, “because Napaimute water levels were up 20 to 30 feet behind that ice jam. I believe that’s what we’re seeing now past Tuluksak [on May 5], and now it’s in the Kwethluk area. It should come up here down by Bethel anytime, probably next 12 hours.” 

The high water is also being fed by ice that was stuck in side-sloughs, which Samuelson says could play a part in keeping water levels high as warm temperatures melt more of that ice. He predicts that high water may persist for another day or so. 

In Kwethluk, there was quite a lot of ice flowing through the community. Samuelson said that water levels are still rising there. As of 6 a.m. on Wednesday, May 6, water levels were up 2 to 3 feet and low-lying roads have as much as 9 to 12 inches of water on them.

In Bethel, the water was up to the level of the seawall on May 6, and some low-lying areas are filling up. There was still ice passing the town, but the ice is thinner. Further upriver towards Tuluksak, there was still ice flowing, but not as heavily as on May 5. Water levels remain high in the village.

“The water only dropped 1 foot overnight in Tuluksak,” said Samuelson. “A lot of that ice that’s coming out now is the side sloughs are still flushing out.”

Those in Aniak and other middle Kuskokwim villages may have been free of ice for a few days, but they need to keep an eye out for a second wave of ice. The ice pack at McGrath broke up a few days ago and is headed downriver. Samuelson said that he saw on Facebook that the river in front of Sleetmute and Red Devil is full of ice now.

“They are bank to bank full of ice now. And that is the McGrath ice making its way down,” said Samuelson, adding that he didn't know how long it will take for the McGrath ice to melt out. The high water appears to be moving it faster and farther than normal.