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Tuluksak floods as multiple ice jams threaten lower Kuskokwim River communities

Breakup flooding is seen in Tuluksak on the Kuskokwim River on May 6, 2024.
Sage Smiley
Breakup flooding is seen in Tuluksak on the Kuskokwim River on May 6, 2024.

NWS Update (as of 11:30 p.m., May 6): Tuluksak backwash pond is full of Kusko water and the village will not be able to make drinking water Tuesday morning; at least one home is now flooding and the family has been advised to move to the school. 

While middle Kuskokwim River communities seem to be in the clear for breakup, the National Weather Service says things are far from wrapped up on the lower river. A series of ice jams below Tuluksak left roads in the village flooded as of Monday evening (May 6), while the largest Kusko ice jam – located just below Akiak – has that community on high alert for potential flooding.

On Monday evening, Tuluksak resident Willie Phillip said rising water had covered a portion of the road to the village’s power plant and water treatment plant. He also said the village’s landfill had filled with water, and that the Kuskokwim was within less than three feet of spilling into the town itself.

"Seems like it’s the worst flooding I’ve seen in 10, 15 years," Phillip said.

National Weather Service Hydrologist Johnse Ostman said that the ice jam that starts roughly a mile below Tuluksak, known as the Mishevik jam, has reduced in size. But he also said this has actually added to the size of the next ice jam in line, which Ostman estimated to be roughly 13 miles long.

"That Mishevik jam got shorter today. What that means, though, is that Akiak jam got longer," Ostman said. "Downstream of Akiak, this is where there's a lot of unknowns. There's a couple of jam spots below that could cause Akiak to flood. It also could cause Tuluksak to maybe get a little relief as the jam moves down river, but then just go right back to where they were in a flood state."

The next communities downriver, Akiachak and Kwethluk, are also not out of the woods, but Ostman said that Akiachak is of greater concern at the moment.

"There's a ton of intact ice down past Akiachak," he said. "It looks to me like there was some movement today throughout the day, ice moving downriver towards what they call 'the Y.' The Y has some ice packed in it as well, but it's more-so definitely on the Akiachak side."

While Ostman said the river near Bethel is pretty well deteriorated, the story further downriver is markedly different.

"Below the Johnson it actually looks like winter still. There's snow on the tundra, the ponds and lakes are blue. The ice is white and blue in places almost all the way to the downstream edge of the ice," Ostman said.

Ostman said that warm weather hundreds of miles upriver in the mountains surrounding the McGrath and Crooked Creek areas could create serious problems for the lower communities of Napakiak, Oscarville, and Napaskiak.

"If we're warming up there, we're putting a bunch of snowmelt in here and we've got this really, really intact ice down at the bottom," he said. "Even if we were to melt out all that other stuff before this really intact ice off the Johnson melts, it could be enough to push a wave back upriver."

Ostman said the RiverWatch team touched down in Napakiak on May 6 to meet with community leaders and discuss the potential for serious flooding.

While May 6 was dramatically cooler than recent days, Ostman said one of the biggest surprises of tracking the Kusko breakup this year has been seeing upriver communities spared from catastrophic flooding by abnormally warm temperatures over the past week and a half.

"It worked out mostly in our favor, because our really susceptible villages to flooding, Crooked Creek, Napaimute, Sleetmute, some of the ones that we almost expect to get water into didn't flood this year and had very, very easy breakups overall," he said.

Today, RiverWatch officials plan to closely monitor the multiple ice jams on the lower Kuskokwim. If no major developments seem imminent, Ostman said the team may fly over a section of the lower Yukon River as well.

Find photos from Monday’s Kuskokwim RiverWatch flight here.

Breakup and flood-related information can change quickly, and this article may be updated to reflect more current information.

Share photos or observations with KYUK at 907-543-0223 or by emailing

Updated: May 14, 2024 at 12:29 AM AKDT
For accuracy, the word "dump" has been edited to become "landfill"
Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
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