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Strong waves from Sunday's storm wash away Dillingham shoreline

Isabelle Ross/KDLG

High surf and 55 mile-per-hour gusts significantly eroded the bluff near Dillingham’s sewage lagoon Sunday.

The day after the storm, Gabe Dunham, a Marine Advisory Program agent, went down to the shore to see how much of the bluff had eroded.

Credit Chris Maio/UAF
A digital map tracking erosion from 1942 to 2016.

“We’ll have to wait to compare the actual results from the measurements last time," said Dunham. "Just by eyeballing it we can kind of see that we’ve lost about 15 feet in front of transect one, 15 in front of transect two, and 10 feet in front of transect three. Transect one, which is right below the camera, is the closest one to the sewage lagoon.”

Dunham was part of a study monitoring beach and bluff erosion and water levels around Bristol Bay. The study was funded by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Sea Grant and the Bristol Bay Native Association.

Using wooden stakes and time-lapse cameras, local researchers have tracked the extent of erosion in 10 communities around the region since 2016. When Dunham went out to measure the bluff by Dillingham’s sewage lagoon on Monday, what he found was dramatic.

Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG
Dunham and Flensburg walk along the bluff to straighten the stake knocked over in Sunday's storm.

“One of our seaward stakes is in the sea," he said. "The other one is right next to the bluff. Last time we were here we set up a second set of stakes. We’ll measure from the first initial stake. And that’ll be now the seaward stake.”

The sewage lagoon bluff has eroded up to 12 feet a year since 1942. Storms and storm surges are one of the main causes of erosion, and Dunham says that storms like the one over the weekend occur around one to two times a year. Although the project has ended, the research it initiated will continue under new funding sources.

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

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.