Akiak loses a mile of riverbank to erosion

Erosion in Akiak swallowed 75 to 100 feet of riverbank along the village on May 20, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ivan / City of Akiak)

People in Akiak woke up on Monday to find their smokehouses in the river. Massive erosion along the riverbank had eaten those structures earlier that morning.

“Yesterday we lost anywhere from 75 to 100 feet of bank,” said Akiak City Administrator David Gilila. “That’s just in one day; that’s just in a matter of hours.”

Gilila says that Akiak has seen erosion problems before, but nothing like this.

“There’s no comparison to it. Before, it was just certain spots. Today, it’s the whole bank from the upper end of Akiak to the lower end of it,” Gilila said.

That’s about a mile.

Smokehouses were the first to go, but people’s homes are in danger too. Gilila says that one home is now only 10 to 15 feet away from the riverbank, and another is within 75 feet. 

“We got about three houses in imminent danger, and the rest of them will be coming along pretty quickly,” Gilila said. “Yeah, if we don’t stop the erosion we’re going to have to move two, three, four houses.”

Gilila says that the immediate plan is to stabilize the riverbank by using metal poles to secure a tarp over the riverbank to try to hold it together. The city is in communication with the state’s emergency response organization to get funds and technical expertise in managing erosion.

“Hopefully they’ll come and advise us on how to stabilize the erosion down there,” Gilila said.

If the erosion continues, Gilila says that Akiak may be surrounded by water.

“We’ll still be here, but we’ll probably become an island,” Gilila said. “Because we got a slough just behind Akiak that’s not too far from being reached by the erosion, and when that happens, if that happens, Akiak will become an island.”

Whatever happens, Gilila says that the cost of relocating an entire village would be so high that Akiak has no choice but to stay where it is.