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As low Nushagak River restricts barge travel, New Stuyahok limits heating fuel

Avery Lill/ KDLG

Koliganek and New Stuyahok are still waiting on their first barge of the year. Heating fuel use for residents and businesses in New Stuyahok is limited.


Low water levels on the Nushagak River are still thwarting barges efforts to travel upriver. Russ Rolf’s freight company, Dun Dreamin, made it as far as Ekwok. Vitus Energy has not made it past Portage Creek. Koliganek and New Stuyahok have yet to see a barge this year.

“We’re in a holding pattern, and it’s a wait and see,” says Mike Poston, director of sales at Vitus. “Usually we try to get a lot of the fuel deliveries and freight deliveries done up the river in the spring when the snow melt has a higher water level. But that didn’t happen this year. So now we’re into the middle of the summer, and we’re waiting for rain.”

It is typical for the river to run low and deliveries to lag at this point in the summer. What is unusual is that the river has been low since it opened up. However, Poston says the weather forecast bodes well for barge deliveries later this summer or fall.

“In these days of climate change, you really don’t know what you’re going to get, but one thing we do have to go on is the long range projections from NOAA. They’re saying normal precipitation for this area. With that in mind, we are optimistic that rains will come when they’re supposed to come. We’ll need quite a bit of that before we can get going. We’re not concerned, but it’s going to take some rain,” says Poston.

Late barges also do not seem to concern many residents in Koliganek who rely on the barge largely for fuel and construction materials.

“I don’t think it has affected us too much here in Koliganek because of our bulk fuel system,” says Frances Nelson, a resident of the village. “Our bulk fuel is taking care of our community, and hopefully the river will raise enough so that we can continue to take care of our community for the next year.”

In the meantime, New Stuyahok is conserving heating fuel. Businesses are limited to 50 gallons per month, and homes are limited to 30 gallons.

This is not the first time in recent years that water levels on the Nushagak have been low. In 2014, low water levels postponed barge deliveries, which delayed construction of the school in Koliganek. That year levels had recovered enough by late spring for some barges to travel upriver.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.