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High Arkansas River levels mean fun, danger

Posted: 9:10 PM, Jun 10, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-11 00:08:49-04

CAÑON CITY – The water keep rising in the Arkansas River, bringing with it the promise of the best whitewater river rafting season in years, but also the threats that come along with deep, cold, fast-flowing water.

Discharge through Centennial Park now exceeds 4,000 cubic feet per second, or the equivalent force of 4,000 basketball passing a single point per second.  “It’s awesome for our tourism, it’s great for the boaters, rafters, and fishermen as well,” said Fremont County Emergency Manager Mykel Kroll. “With the historic snowpack we had in the high country, we’re seeing all of the runoff from that as our temperatures have warmed up.”

The fast, rough waters are the ideal conditions for swift-water rescue training as well.  Members of the Colorado Springs Fire Department heavy rescue team practiced rescues from the foot bridge spanning the river on Monday.  “For us rescuers, it’s pretty treacherous water, so we’re just getting some experience in swimming in this water,” said Brian Kurtz, head of the program.  “This is a good training day that we can see lots of hydrology, different things that the river is doing, different things that we go through as rescuers, and different ways to put systems across the river so we can safely affect a rescue.”

The water is also extremely dangerous.  “If you don’t have to be in the water right now, don’t be,” Kroll said, “but if you do, make sure you’re prepared, be safe, know how to swim, wear your life jacket, your helmet, have a plan.”  Three sections of the Arkansas River — Pine Creek Rapid, Numbers, and Royal Gorge — are under a High Water Advisory, meaning commercial rafting companies are recommended not to run those sections due to dangerous conditions.

“Probably shouldn’t get in it,” said Chance Goodman, a child from Brighton visiting Centennial Park. “It’s a scary thought how fast I could go down that, how fast you could drown.”