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Ice Begins Moving At Crooked Creek, Sleetmute

Courtesy of Julia Zaukar

Ice on the Kuskokwim River is still solid in many places, but it is slowly beginning to move. Crooked Creek and Sleetmute are reporting that the ice is beginning to shift in front of their communities, with water rising fast. Crooked Creek residents are already moving to higher ground and getting their boats ready. Traditional Council President Julia Zaukar said that the ice began shifting last week. On Sunday night, Zaukar reported flooding on some of the roads in town.

Several residents lost homes to flooding in 2011 and don’t want it to happen again. According to the river watch, Sleetmute is also seeing shifting ice, but the water has not risen above the banks.

Bethel mayor Perry Barr flew with the Civil Air Patrol on Sunday, April 26 to check out the river conditions. He reported a lot of water on the sides of the Kuskokwim River from Bethel past Aniak, but also saw solid sheets of ice in the middle of it. Barr reported very little rotted ice in the river.

Barr said that all the tributaries in the upper Kuskokwim River region are open except for the Holitna River. The Aniak River and Aniak Slough are open, and the middle Kuskokwim community is reporting flooding near its barge landing according to Erica Kameroff, Aniak’s incident commander, mayor, and tribal council member.

Meanwhile up in McGrath, the frozen Kuskokwim River is still fairly solid, but water is rising near some of its roads. There’s still a lot of snow covering the ground, and the worry is that the snowmelt couild cause flooding and overwhelm villages up and down the river. The river went out in Nikolai on April 20. The ice typically breaks up near McGrath 10 days later, which means that the ice could go out near the town in the middle of this week. Temperatures this past weekend have been sunny and above freezing, but dip below freezing at night.

The National Weather Service has predicted “above-average flood potential” for the Kuskokwim River this year. State officials and communities worry that ice jams, which happen when temperatures rise quickly, melt snow, and crack the ice into bergs, will flood communities that are also preparing for a coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile in Bethel, Mayor Perry Barr said that the Kuskokwim Ice Classic tripod is still up, and the ice is several feet thick in front of town on the Kuskokwim River. In Napaskiak, resident Earl Samuelson reports that the ice is beginning to weaken in the Johnson River and that the community has already prepared a flood plan.