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Environment

Environmental stories that take place in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

The ice road crew, with members from Napaimute and Chuathbaluk, plowed the frozen Kuskokwim River from Kalskag to Chuathbaluk on Jan 11.
Mark Leary

The ice road has been extended to Chuathbaluk. Mark Leary and workers from Chuathbaluk and Napaimute plowed the river from Kalskag to Chuathbaluk on Jan. 11. Leary reports that cars are already using the new section of the road.

Frozen pipes have claimed another victim in Bethel: the 4-H Youth Center facility. In lieu of its building, 4-H will be hosting its afterschool club at the Bethel Cultural Center from Jan. 13-16. 

Mark Leary and his ice road crew set out to plow the ice road on the morning of Jan. 6, 2020 and reached Kalskag at 7 p.m. of Jan. 7, 2020.
Mark Leary

The ice road has grown longer, thanks to Mark Leary and his ice road crew. The crew plowed the road all the way to Kalskag on Jan. 7. Leary said his crew experienced no issues while they plowed the 50 miles from Tuluksak to Kalskag in a wind chill of negative 45 degrees Fahrenheit. However, he recommends that drivers not use the new section of the ice road yet because of three unmarked open holes between Tuluksak and Kalskag.

Bethel resident, Renee Gregory, points at her pants stained from liquids that backed up into her bathtub after her drainage pipes froze last week.
Greg Kim / KYUK

Across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, temperatures have reached far below zero for weeks, freezing pipes in homes across the region. For many people, that means a return to a way life before running water and flush toilets. 


The Donlin Gold mine could be one of the biggest mines if completed.
Dean Swope / KYUK

Donlin Gold received a handful of state permits on Jan. 2, 2020 that move the company closer to operating its gold mine in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, according to Alaska Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Dan Saddler. 

Alaska Hovercraft's vehicle, the Pistenbully, was seen grading the frozen Kuskokwim River.
Bradon Brink

Drivers on the frozen Kuskokwim River may experience a smoother ride this winter. Alaska Hovercraft, a company that delivers mail, is using a new vehicle that it acquired last year. It goes by many names: Pistenbully, snow cat or groomer. It’s big, it's red, and it’s making it easier to drive on the river.

Open holes puncture the Kuskokwim River near Bethel in the early December 2019.
Krysti Shallenberger / KYUK

Temperatures in Bethel and the surrounding villages plunged below zero at the end of December and have stayed there, freezing pipes and backing up sewage. Despite the cold stretch that brought the year to an end, 2019 is the warmest year on record for Bethel. 


Krysti Shallenberger / KYUK

In recent years, climate change has meant the ice necessary for the Ice Road forms later, breaks up earlier, and isn’t as thick. Travelers have died falling in the river or open holes. Now Search and Rescue volunteers in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta grapple with unpredictable river conditions.


The pool at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center in Bethel.
Dean Swope/KYUK

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center has been closed since Christmas. What started as a few frozen pipes has turned into a medley of mechanical problems, all triggered by the recent cold snap.


Time to bundle up. Severe wind chill is predicted for this evening and into the coming days. The National Weather Service has issued a wind chill advisory for the Kuskokwim Delta, beginning Monday at 9 p.m. and lasting through noon on Wednesday, New Year's Day. The Weather Service predicts wind chill dropping to a low of 45 degrees below zero and sustained northerly winds of 15 to 35 miles per hours with even higher gusts. The strongest winds will blow along the coast.

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