Two raging rivers prompt rare restrictions, possible $50 fines

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department said Thursday that swollen waters prompted a rare decision to restrict use of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers in Mesa County, with violators facing fines of $50.

The order was the first of its kind in Mesa County since at least 2002, when Sheriff Stan Hilkey was first elected to the office.

Effective Thursday, restrictions will be enforced for the Colorado River, starting at the De Beque bridge and stretching west to the Colorado-Utah line, the Sheriff’s Department said in a news release. The order also affected the Gunnison River from Whitewater to the confluence with the Colorado River.

Through June 24, the restrictions apply only to single-chamber flotation devices, items commonly made for swimming pools, such as inner tubes, pool noodles, pool float chairs and loungers and arm floats. The order did not apply to commercial rafting operations, vessels, canoes or kayaks.

Violators could be ticketed for a petty offense and fined $50, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said.

High runoff waters, cold temperatures and high levels of debris prompted the restrictions, the Sheriff’s Department said. Authorities cited a lack of river access for rescuers because of flooding of boat launches and low-hanging bridges, among other reasons.

Response times for rescuers are increased on the Colorado River rescue because of its current swollen width and waterways barely passable under some bridges, Hilkey said.

As measured on the Colorado River near Cameo, waters were expected to crest Thursday night at 13.4 feet and anticipated to stay at or above flood stage several days, the Sheriff’s Department said. A similar crest is possible next week, depending on temperatures.

Colorado boating statutes allow county sheriffs, among other local law enforcement officials, to temporarily restrict use of rivers along sections inside their jurisdiction.

A section of Colorado State Parks regulations said the agency issuing restrictions must also post prominent closure signs at all “commonly used boating or fishing access sites” along the closed areas. Such signs were posted Thursday morning, Benjamin said.


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