Cold, Swift Moving Water Is Dangerous
By: Kris Hazelton
This week, the water in our rivers and streams will be increasing due to heavy spring runoff. The Town of Estes Park, with assistance from the Estes Valley Fire Protection District and Larimer County have been preparing residents for the rising water for several weeks now and with the warmer June temperatures, the snowpack is going to be melting at a rapid rate. If the water gets too high, sand bags will be placed along the rivers to protect Estes Park’s public areas. The Town will monitor the water levels and will respond with further sand bagging and emergency notifications if necessary. Swift waters can be very beautiful but are very dangerous.
The warm spring weather over the past few days may now have people thinking about family outings along one of our beautiful rivers here in town. And while the riverbanks can be a beautiful setting for those outings, they could turn deadly for anyone who ventures into or falls into the cold water of the river.
While our rivers are a great resource for fishing and other recreational activities, the snowmelt runoff period makes the river and its banks treacherous and deadly.
Warmer temperatures are causing melting of higher altitude snows creating high and swift water flows. The swift water flow can carry a person away quickly, and the temperature of the water will quickly lead to hypothermia which can incapacitate anyone who ventures into or falls into the river overcoming their swimming skills and could ultimately lead to drowning. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature is dramatically lowered. Among other results, there is a loss of strength and muscular coordination as well as mental confusion and often erratic behavior.
The public is encouraged to take the following precautions:
• Do not enter or allow others to enter our rivers during this peak runoff flow periods when people can be quickly overwhelmed by the power of the river, placing themselves and rescuers in danger.
• Use extreme caution while near the river or canyon streams. Children walking near the river should be accompanied by an adult. All pedestrians including walkers and joggers are encouraged to stay on established pathways and trails. Never allow children to play along the river unattended. Make sure children are under constant supervision and keep them away from the riverbank where they can easily fall into the river, or where riverbank erosion can result in the bank caving into the river.
• Should you fall in, do not attempt to stand up. Drownings may result from getting a leg or ankle caught in an underwater rock ledge or between boulders. The force of the water can push you over and hold you under. The standard defensive swimming
position in fast water is lying on your back with your feet pointing downstream and toes up towards the surface. Always look downstream and be prepared to fend off rocks with your feet. While in this position, try to maneuver to the edge of the river and crawl out.
• Avoid prolonged exposure to the cold water of the river which can lead to hypothermia.
• If you see someone fall into the river, immediately call 9-1-1. DO NOT attempt a rescue by entering the water. A rope or flotation device such as an inflated toy or sports ball, or even a Styrofoam ice chest can be thrown to the victim to assist them. If possible someone should try to maintain eye contact with the victim.
• Boaters, rafters and kayakers are encouraged to thoroughly check the condition of the river including temperature and flows before entering the river. And all boaters, rafters and kayakers should wear helmets, appropriate exposures suits and approved personal flotation devices.
Enjoy the beauty of the water, but please be safe and heed all warning barriers.
All photos and video by Gary & Kris Hazelton
Estes Park News 2010.