With high river flows come safety warnings

Flows on the Colorado River, shown here at the Blue Heron boat launch, are climbing due to the recent high temperatures, causing mountain snowmelt to accelerate. Flows were recorded at 25,100 cubic feet per second at the Utah state line today.

Every year about this time, area search and rescue teams fish stranded swimmers or people on flimsy rafts out of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. Sometimes those folks get to shore safely. Other times the rivers win.

Officials worry a perfect storm is brewing on local rivers for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend as temperatures heat up and river water levels top out.

“Recreating on the rivers with substandard equipment and without a personal flotation device is an invitation for tragedy,” warned Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey in a news release. “Use of a life vest should be as common as sunscreen and sunglasses while on or in the river. No exceptions.”

While temperatures launched into the 90s Monday, the warmest day of the season to date, water temperatures on the Colorado River near the Utah state line were a nippy 56.8 degrees Monday afternoon, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

Runoff and snow melt is causing increasing water flows, which were recorded Monday afternoon at 16,600 cubic feet per second on the Colorado River near Cameo and 24,000 cfs on the Colorado River at the Utah state line. The area is downstream of the confluence of the Colorado River and the Gunnison River.

In 2007, there were seven drowning deaths in Mesa County; last year there were two.

Search and rescue officials spent most of Monday scouring the Colorado River near Silt after someone reported seeing a person in the water and hearing a call for help. The submerged person reportedly quickly moved out of sight. The Colorado Air National Guard was called in to search the area, but the search was called off Monday night. No missing people had been reported Monday, but the search would resume if someone were reported missing, said spokeswoman Tanny McGinnis of the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department also advises water users to avoid drugs and alcohol.

According to state law, anyone who is determined to have a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or higher while using a flotation device can receive a citation for boating under the influence.


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