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Don’t get swept away in rapture of spring runoff

Area residents are being treated to a seasonal phenomenon that has been missing since the year 2000.

Local rivers and streams are raging at levels not seen since then due to drought. A winter’s worth of mountain snowfall is turned to liquid by the warmth of spring, and races to lower elevations in a matter of just a few weeks.

It’s a spectacle that properly impresses all who witness this force of nature. But this force demands respect as well.



The disappearance of a man whose canoe swamped on a trip with his sister and father Sunday serves as a tragic reminder of the power of a snowmelt-engorged waterway. The three were paddling a relatively calm stretch of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, upstream of the whitewater for which the canyon is famous. Yet something went wrong, and only two of the three made it safely to shore. A search continues for the missing man.

A river during runoff is a different river altogether. Looks can sometimes be deceiving. Even if the river is riding high enough to avoid some of the rock obstacles normally present, its powerful current can capsize a boat without warning, and make self-rescue harrowing for anyone being swept downstream.



Hypothermia only worsens the situation. Icy water that was so recently snow causes muscles to seize up and bodies to shut down, all but disabling someone unable to get to safety immediately.

And the danger isn’t limited to boaters. Someone who isn’t careful on the bank of a river or even stream – perhaps an angler, or merely someone who strays too close to the water – can take one false step and suddenly be swept away. Lacking the life vest that boaters are required to wear by state law only worsens the predicament.

Commercial rafting outfitters stay off the Colorado River’s whitewater stretch from Shoshone to Grizzly Creek in such high water. Private rafters and kayakers are best advised to do the same, unless they possess extreme river savvy, including a full understanding of the risk involved. Inexperienced boaters should consider staying off local rivers altogether until water levels come down.

The high runoff is a welcome sight after so many dry winters. But it can be like that first snowfall of the season when some motorists fail to respect the danger of icy roads.

Those who ignore the power of a big spring runoff do so at considerable peril – to themselves, and those who might be called on to try and rescue them.


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