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Environment

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

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.

The Kuskokwim River near Bethel.
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.

Christine Trudeau / KYUK

For the last two decades, mining companies have been working to develop the massive Donlin Gold prospect in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. And most of that time, the development has claimed support from neighboring communities. But that’s changing as tribes, organizations, and communities have begun opposing the mine development and organizing. 


Courtesy of BSAR

Travelers need to stay off Straight Slough, which flows into the main Kuskokwim River near Bethel. That’s according to the latest river update from Bethel Search and Rescue. The report says that there are four open holes close to Bethel.

Courtesy of Google Maps

High winds and warm temperatures caused flooding in Kipnuk in the early hours of Dec. 10. Facebook photos showed water flowing down slushy roads; Kipnuk sits three miles from the Bering Sea coast.

Courtesy of Rick Garcia

A big winter storm came in from the Bering Sea and battered the Western Alaska coast from the evening of Nov. 25 through Nov. 26. Some communities, like Hooper Bay, have reported flooding. Others have reported power outages. 


Katie Basile / KYUK

Ten years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers released a report that detailed the impacts of erosion in Alaska Native communities.

Don Antrobus is the Program Manager for the Village Infrastructure Protection Program at the Denali Commission, and helped guide an updated report that documents erosion and other environmental threats facing the communities: erosion, thawing permafrost, and flooding. Antrobus says that all are made worse by climate change. 


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