Play It Again, Sam. Flood Alert At Tazlina

Tazlina River At Risk Of Flooding Again... Darn That Ice Dam! The Tazlina River in its "recreational" role. (Photo, Marnie Gra...

Tazlina River At Risk Of Flooding Again... Darn That Ice Dam!

The Tazlina River in its "recreational" role. (Photo, Marnie Graham, BLM)

On August 19th, 2020, a special weather alert  from NOAA stated that the Tazlina Glacier Dammed Lake was causing water to rise on Tazlina Lake and Tazlina River, and for people living downstream to beware of floating debris and rapid rises in water levels.

Boulder in the Tazlina River by the bridge. (Photo, Journal)
The Tazlina River near Glennallen has always been surprisingly challenging. Before there was a bridge there, early American miners and explorers used to cross the river by taking their horses and mules into the water, and swimming them across.

In the early 1900's, even this was dangerous. Addison Powell, who wrote a book called Trailing & Camping in Alaska, about his Copper Valley adventures, showed just how bad it was:

"We swam our horses across the Tazlina River. Here Charley Sobell, of Port Angeles, Washington, was drowned in an attempt to cross on a mule. Man and beast drifted down and rolled over a large boulder. Charley never came to the surface."
    --Addison Powell, Trailing & Camping In Alaska 
The Tazlina River comes out of Tazlina Lake, and Tazlina Lake comes from the Tazlina Glacier. Little lakes frequently build up on the glacier. When the ice holding the lakes as a dam breaks, the water floods into the river. Floods are very common at Tazlina Lake. It happens all the time. Local people, the DOT and the National Weather Service are constantly having to deal with the floods on the Tazlina River.

 In 2007, the U.S. Army reported flooding in February, bringing an ice jam within 3 feet of the underside of the Tazlina Bridge. In September, 2010, the river also busted loose, leading to stories in the Anchorage Daily News.

One of the more dramatic incidents occurred right around this time of year in 1997. Rip-rap (boulders) and a spur dike had been put in place at the Tazlina Bridge around 6 years before the big 1997 flood. The river was so powerful, though, that it took out 75 yards of the imposing dike. The governor put Tazlina, Copper Center and the Nabesna Road onto a disaster area list that summer, due to flooding in all locations.

The Joe Goodlataw home beside the Tazlina River, in full flood. August, 1997. (File Photo, Country Journal)

Ahtna elder Joe Goodlataw, and his daughter, Mae Marshall (and her husband, Robert Marshall) had homes along the flood plain. The Joe Goodlataw house was directly beside the river and surrounded with flood waters. The furniture of both the Marshall and Goodlataw homes was removed.

Flooding that summer was severe, beginning in Northway, moving to Nabesna, and then expanding to the Taylor Highway, Alaska Highway, Tok Cutoff, Richardson, Tanana River and Copper River Highways.


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