10-mile Lower Kuskokwim ice jam causes flooding, high water

an ice jam
Ice jammed outside of Akiak, May 7, 2024. (From National Weather Service)

Early Wednesday morning, Akiak residents reported slowly rising water and the sound of moving ice. Tuluksak is experiencing what residents describe as some of its “worst flooding” in 10-15 years. A 10-mile-long ice jam had been wedged below Akiak, which is under flood advisory on Wednesday.

Bethel Search and Rescue member Mark Leary joined the RiverWatch team on their Tuesday aerial survey of the Kuskokwim.

“When that ice starts moving, there’s going to be a surge of water. All that water that’s backed up above the jam, it’s going to start coming down and start draining out of the landscape back into the Kuskokwim so there’ll be a surge of water,” Leary said. “How severe it is at Akiak, we don’t know. Akiak has a lot of time to prepare. They’ve been through this before. They’re a well-organized community. I think, you know, they’ll be good.”

Above the massive ice jam, Tuluksak has been upgraded to a flood warning, where waters have filled up surrounding low-lying areas and have inundated parts of the village itself.

Breakup flooding due to a massive ice jam downriver is seen in Tuluksak on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (Courtesy Bethel Search and Rescue)

“On the front side, the river side, the water’s going down. But on the backside water’s coming in,” Leary said. “ The water is continuing to creep up slowly behind them, coming in behind them, because the land downstream of them is flooding and filling up with water.”

Julia Long is an emergency management specialist with the State Emergency Operations Center. She also joined the May 7 RiverWatch flight. After assessing the situation in Tuluksak, Long says it is still a waiting game, but that the Tuluksak School can serve as a shelter if homes ultimately need to be evacuated.

“So I’ve been in touch with the National Guard, so everybody’s on alert. The dump site is inundated with water. So I’ve contacted the DEC for help with response on that,” Long said. “The water supply, the supply pond has been inundated with water, so it’s disabled the community’s ability to produce water, but the water plant itself is not damaged. We’ve got some response measures in place, and everybody’s on alert, and we’re just kind of waiting to see what the water does.”

Communities downriver of Akiak and Tuluksak, namely Kwethluk and Akiachak, are also waiting to see what the water does.

On Wednesday, the RiverWatch team will continue to fly over the lower Kuskokwim River, keeping a close eye on the situation in Tuluksak, and ensuring that downriver communities have the most up-to-date information available.

Find the most recent flood watches, warnings and advisories for the region here.

Find photos from Tuesday’s 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 news@kyuk.org.

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