When Colorado flows are high, experts urge river rats to use common sense
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Summer weather recently arrived in the High Country, and with it the desire to cool off in the Colorado River, Blue River, Eagle River — just about any body of water.
Consider safety first, however, before dusting off stand-up paddleboards, rafts and kayaks.
“It’s a high risk time to be on the river,” said Shawn Montgomery, Grand Junction Fire Department’s information coordinator. “It’s going to be very unpredictable for awhile. The runoff is crazy. There are a lot of strainers and debris, and the water is fast.”
So far this season Grand Junction Fire Department’s river rescue team helped a fisherman stranded on a piece of concrete just above 29 Road, and they assisted with a capsized raft at the 29 Road bridge.
“That’s the spot right now, but that is going to change,” Montgomery said. “ … I’m never going to tell people not to go play, but I am going to tell them to be cautious. That river does take people’s lives. It needs to be considered.”
Heather Benjamin, who works as the information coordinator for Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, recommends caution for river users, too.
“Always wear a life jacket, and always do it sober with proper gear and equipment,” she said. “All too often, the rescues and the body recoveries are from improper equipment — floating devices made for a swimming pool, not a swift water river.”
Benjamin also suggests river exploration with a trained guide whenever possible.
Tom Kleinschnitz, owner of Grand Junction’s Adventure Bound rafting company, said he’s already running trips throughout the region.
“We’ve been going since the end of April,” he said, “and it’s been a really strong May. We’re hoping that carries forward.”
Sharing a rafting plan with a family member or friend not going on the trip is also a good idea, Benjamin explained. This includes launch and end locations, along with a trip time estimate.
“Anyone overdue should be reported to 911 without delay,” she said. “And, anyone who self rescues but loses their boat or equipment should notify dispatch and make a report about it. Citizens have reported empty rafts going down the river and we always send out a rescue unit to search for boaters/rafters.”
According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s website, Colorado River levels gauged at Palisade currently measure 8.88 feet high. Water discharge at the same location is 14,800 cubic feet per second, which is higher than average (11,600) but not hitting 2011 levels (24,800).
A bit closer to home, the Blue River below Dillon Reservoir as of Friday morning was swollen and beginning to flow at peak levels. It’s currently at 1,290 cubic feet per second and measures 3.7 feet high. Discharge is well above the average of 445 but still below the record of 1,890 in 1984.
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