Kuskokwim headwaters open while lower river rapidly deteriorates

by Shane Iverson on April 25, 2014

The Kwethluk River, a tributary in the lower Kuskokwim, is now open. Photo courtesy: David Epchook.

The Kwethluk River, a tributary in the lower Kuskokwim, is now open. Photo courtesy: David Epchook.

The State of Alaska River Watch program is reporting open water in the Kuskokwim River headwater village of Nicolai as of Wednesday, April 23.

The River Watch program conducts aerial observations of rivers prone to flooding and ice jam flooding. The River Watch teams provide flood warnings and alerts. They say they will begin flying the Yukon River next week and plan on flying the Kuskokwim in early May.

In the middle-river area the Aniak River, a major Kuskokwim tributary, has completely opened according to the Native Village of Napaimute.

The slough by FAA in Aniak is enjoyed by some early boaters. Photo courtesy: Dave Cannon.

The slough by FAA in Aniak is enjoyed by some early boaters. Photo courtesy: Dave Cannon.

As for the Lower Kuskokwim area, Alaska State Trooper pilot Earl Samuelson is advising everyone to stay off the river. He warns about the worsening ice conditions, especially in the creeks and sloughs prompting another rescue on Thursday.

“Yesterday we had a guy out there walking that had to be rescued by the Bethel Search and Rescue,” says Samulson, who is concerned about ongoing traffic. “We noticed yesterday that the Kuskokwim River started deteriorating pretty quick. And all of the sloughs (like) the Napakiak Slough, the Napaskiak Slough, Oscarville Slough, Church Slough, Gweek River, Kwethluk River, all those creeks are all rotted out there,” says Samuelson.

Samulson reports that the Kuskokwim itself is getting pretty dangerous in a lot of areas. He says the ice melting into needle ice all over the river, a dangerous kind of ice that can hold little to no weight. He also mentioned open water in many areas of the river along the sides or in forks and bends. He recommends that everyone stay off the Kuskokwim. He also adds that ice deterioration may be accelerated this year due to low snowfall during the winter.

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