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Bethel and Kwethluk on flood advisory as waters rise along lower Kuskokwim River

Breakup flooding is seen on Seventh Avenue in Bethel's "Alligator Acres" neighborhood on May 8, 2024.
Dean Swope
Breakup flooding is seen on Seventh Avenue in Bethel's "Alligator Acres" neighborhood on May 8, 2024.

UPDATE 5:59 p.m. May 8, 2024:

Kwethluk is under a flood warning and low-lying areas around Bethel are under flood advisory as the river ice breakup front moves toward the ocean.

Kwethluk resident George Guy said this afternoon that he saw the water rise around two feet in half an hour, flowing over the village’s main road.

“It's affecting the lower portions of our village. One of the main roads, our state highway, mid-part is already overflowing,” Guy said.

Earlier this week, moving chunks of river ice took out the intake pipe to Kwethluk’s water treatment plant, and as of this morning (May 8), the community was still without water, with the school operating on a modified schedule because of the outage.

On Wednesday, the Alaska Army National Guard said it hadn’t received requests from the state to assist with flood response, but confirmed that they’ve got a Black Hawk and crew in Bethel.

Downriver, Bethel neighborhoods around Brown’s Slough, including Alligator Acres, had water over the roads as of this evening, but residents hadn’t reported flooded houses.

Bethel Search and Rescue member Earl Samuelson says a 10-mile-long ice jam upriver broke in the early hours of this morning (May 8).

“And that's making its way down towards Bethel as we speak,” Samuelson said this afternoon. “And then that should flow right through Bethel the rest of the afternoon and maybe this evening.”

With low-lying areas already waterlogged, Samuelson says the combination of the moving breakup front and tidal shift could bring Bethel water levels up even more.

“With that and the water surge, and with the south wind, it's a good combination to have higher water,” Samuelson said.

Communities lower on the Kuskokwim are also on edge. As of this afternoon (May 8), the National Weather Service said the breakup front sat above the village of Napaskiak, about six miles south of Bethel.

Napaskiak, Oscarville, and Napakiak are all on flood watch.

Napaskiak’s Tribal Administrator told KYUK midday Wednesday that the rising water makes him nervous. While the town isn’t flooding yet, he said the river level is in line with the highest water level he’s seen in the 27 years he’s been in Napaskiak.

National Weather Service officials are actively monitoring the shifting river ice through community reports and daily RiverWatch flights.

While the breakup front moves, water is retreating from flooded communities upriver.

Tuluksak remains on a flood warning, although the National Weather Service reported this afternoon (May 8) that water levels were dropping. In recent days, rising water inundated Tuluksak’s drinking water reservoir, and as of May 7, officials reported the community couldn’t treat water.

In Akiak, water levels rose and the community was placed under a flood advisory, but that advisory is being dropped after the ice jam broke early this morning. Samuelson says it was a close call.

“Akiak, they lucked out,” Samuelson said. “Akiak really lucked out.”

The whole Kuskokwim Delta remains under flood watch through Friday morning (May 10).


Kwethluk and Bethel are under flood advisory as the breakup front reportedly moves down the Kuskokwim River.

As of 10:30 Wednesday (May 8) morning, National Weather Service Hydrologist Johnse Ostman said a flood advisory has been issued for Bethel and Kwethluk, while the downriver villages of Napaskiak, Oscarville, and Napakiak remain on flood watch.

"The Bethel river gauge operated by the National Weather Service puts us in minor flood stage, and we have water over the road to the north of Brown’s Slough, which it makes it impassable at this point," Ostman said. "Bethel for the most part doesn’t have huge flood impacts that we've observed in the past. It's mostly the low-lying areas. It's the major infrastructure, the port, the boat harbor, and sort of that north end of town."

Ostman also said he had received reports that water levels were rising rapidly in both Napaskiak and Kwethluk, and that tidal action could compound the flooding already being seen as of Wednesday morning.

"We have a high tide later this afternoon that is I think around three and a half feet and may contribute and impact the already higher water levels because of the ice running by and backwater from downstream," Ostman said.

Upriver, Tuluksak remains on flood advisory, though Ostman said that water levels have fallen about 1 foot and are continuing to fall. Additionally, reports have been received that water levels in Akiak have dropped.

Ostman said the RiverWatch team was currently on hold for flying due to the poor visibility in Bethel.

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 8, 2024 at 6:04 PM AKDT
This article has been updated with additional information.

Additional photos have been included in this story.
Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
Sage Smiley is KYUK's news director.
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