Around mid to late May, there was unusually high water. It was a combination of snow melt and rain, but water is rising all around the world. The high water is more common now, it's been pretty high the past four years. This year, a combination of high water and winds caused a lot of the shoreline to erode.This past spring we lost about 100 feet, from eddies being created from high water and the high current near the upper side of the village. The shoreline is about 15-20 feet away from some houses now, in an area that was 50 feet away at the beginning of the year. It will be at their steps with the fall storms. A couple years ago, the beach in front used to be shallow enough for people to pull their boats up in front of the town, but it is too steep. Sand and dirt can fall in to the boats and sink them. Boats have to be pulled up near the sandbar to the south. It's a small space though, and sometimes it is hard to make room.
There used to be a lot of land at the southern end of the community where the river would curve and start heading west. A channel cut in to it and created a sandbar. In the past we would be able to go across to the sandbar, using an ATV, or foot, even some trucks can cross. But now we cannot get over there, it is too deep. In the spring and fall it used to fill up with water and then the water would go down and you could cross. Now it is impassable. Last time we could go across was 4 or 5 ago. When we go swimming at the shortcut between the beach and the sandbar (we call it the short cut), I am able to set a 4" whitefish net and we can catch fish now in the shortcut slough, and we weren't able to in the past! It's good fresh food that we can cook right away for the kids.
The worst winds are the southwinds in the fall, and we will probably see more erosion then. North of Akiak there is another smaller channel that goes around a small island. When that merges with the main channel of the Kuskokwim, it stirs up the waters and makes a strong whirlpool current.
Crane Johnson, a hydrologist with the Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center, writes:
Attached is graph that shows Kuskokwim discharge, measured at Crooked Creek, for 2019 in comparison to the period of record. Flows this spring were higher than average in the 75th to 90th percentile range along the entire Kuskokwim River as a result of a deeper than normal snowpack in the headwaters along the Alaska Range. Increased erosion is also likely at Akiak due to changes in the main Kuskokwim channel that results in flow directed towards the riverbank. Winds can also contribute to increased erosion.
Rick Thoman, Climate Scientist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, writes:
Snowfall during the 2018-19 winter in the headwaters of the Kuskokwim was above normal. Very warm weather in late April and May also allowed for snowmelt earlier than normal at higher elevations, contributing the the high water levels after breakup.
Comments from LEO Editors:
This observation has been forwarded to the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, and the Environmentally Threatened Community Grant Center, at ANTHC.
2019 Kuskokwim River discharge, measured at Crooked Creek
Crane Johnson at the Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center