Settlement in southwestern Alaska on the Bering Sea coast experiences severe flooding

Kwigilingook, a village on the Bering Sea coast in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, is used to some flooding during high tides. But in recent years the flooding has been getting worse and reached a new threshold last week.

Flooding began Friday morning as the tide began to rise.

“It’s the worst we’ve ever seen,” said Gary Evon, environmental coordinator for the Native Village of Quigilingook.

Aerial photos posted on Facebook show much of the community submerged in water. One photo shows someone rafting through the village using a shovel as a paddle. The buildings in the village are on stilts, so Evon said the water has not penetrated any structures. But six inches of water covered the ground beneath them. Most of the township’s boardwalk on June 24 was under water, but Evon said residents have enough walkways to get around the township. On June 25, Evon said that with the next tide, the village would be flooded again.

The minor flooding in Quigillingcock is nothing new, but what is new is the increased severity of tidal flooding in recent years. Evon said it has to do with a changing environment.

With a warming climate, melting permafrost and subsiding soil,” Evon said.

Global temperatures are rising at an accelerated rate. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising three times faster than the rest of the world, according to a study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program. The permafrost beneath Quigilinggok is melting, causing the land to sink. The lowered elevation makes the land more susceptible to flooding during storms and tides, and the flooding causes the permafrost to melt even more.

Evon said the community plans to relocate several homes that are most threatened by erosion and unstable ground, but given the severity of the recent flooding, Evon said Quigillingcock is looking for bigger solutions.

“The whole community is starting to think seriously about moving to higher ground,” Evon said.

Moving an entire community is a monumental task, it seems. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium estimates the cost of moving Quigillingcock will exceed $100 million.