Agencies warn of the dangers present on Colorado’s rivers, streams and lakes

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By Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Special to The SUN
Following a strong winter and wet spring that overloaded the mountain snowpack, the statewide levels on Thursday were 625 percent above the median. That can entice and excite whitewater enthusiasts, but Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), Jefferson County Open Space and the Poudre Fire Authority warn of the dangers that will be present this summer on Colorado’s rivers, streams and lakes.
It is not just the experienced whitewater kayaker that needs to be wary; the dangers of high water levels and swift-moving rapids extend to river rafters, tubers, anglers and swimmers, as well as families who picnic by the water.
“You should always wear a life vest, paddle with a buddy, know your limitations and scout rapids prior to floating them,” said Grant Brown, boating safety program manager with CPW.
River water exerts a very powerful and constant force against any fixed object. Just 6 inches of water can knock a person off their feet. Water flowing at 7 miles per hour has the equivalent force per unit area as air blowing above 200 miles per hour.
If you are swept off your feet or tossed out of your tube, kayak or raft, you could be traveling down river for a long time. Respect how cold that water will be. If you fall into that cold water, it doesn’t take long to get yourself into serious trouble.
Eric Krause, a ranger and visitor relations coordinator with Jefferson County Open Space, issues permits with river rafting companies along Clear Creek.
“It takes remarkably little water moving at a fast speed to sweep an adult or child off of their feet and, once in the water, it is extremely difficult to reach shore and regain control,” Krause said.
Anyone near moving water should be wary, and only those with high levels of experience and competence in whitewater should enter the river.
Krause said that if a boater loses equipment to please call nonemergent dispatch (locally by calling 731-2160) with a description of the equipment and last place seen to avoid unnecessary searches.
Safety tips
• We encourage the use of a personal flotation device that is properly fitted and designed for whitewater boating or paddling. A ski vest is not appropriate for whitewater boating. Wear a helmet.
• Dress accordingly: though the air temperature may be hot, the water is very cold.
• We encourage that people research and check current river conditions of the stretches they intend to run.
• Don’t get in over your head, paddle in conditions you are comfortable and confident paddling in.
• We encourage people to raft with a buddy and avoid floating alone, especially during high flows.
• If you fall into swift water, do not attempt to stand up, as doing so may result in a foot entrapment. Point your feet down river in fast water and as soon as possible swim to shore.
• Keep an eye on your children. Never leave them unattended by a river.
• Scout rapids and unknown sections of the river. Rapids change at varying water levels. Spring floods can carry trees and other debris and jam up a section of a river causing a strainer (water flows through but solids do not).