Hot, humid weather has Iowans seeking ways to cool off. Although the drought is officially over, water-loving Iowans should do their homework before deciding to boat, paddle or tube a river.
“Throughout June, we received several reports of rescue situations along rivers,” said Nate Hoogeveen, river programs coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “While some rivers have dropped to easier levels, last weekend’s rains put some of the most popular rivers well above safe levels for paddlers and innertubers.”
The Upper Iowa River, for example, rose to 14,000 cubic feet per second on Sunday, whereas its “normal” or median flow is 400 cubic feet per second at this time of year.
“Rivers fluctuate a lot, and some that are too high now might be in better shape within a week or two,” said Hoogeveen. “Or, they might be flooding.”
It is important river users know it’s their job to make good decisions about taking the trip in the first place. At high water, it can quickly become a matter of life and death. Hoogeveen offered the following tips:
• Wear your life jacket: Life jackets, when properly fastened and cinched, save lives. Life jackets are mandatory for any child under 13 in any vessel underway in the state of Iowa.
• Recognize and avoid hazards: Most high water incidents involve an obstruction – downed trees and branches create a “strainer” effect that can trap boats and people under water, sometimes leading to drowning. A bridge pier or boulder can get a boat pinned on its upstream side. Low-head dams can re-circulate, trap and drown victims. These hazards are most difficult to avoid at mid to high range flows.
• Learn more before you go: If you are renting, call the outfitter, describe your level of experience and ask whether it sounds like a safe level for you. Otherwise, review river gauge data nearest the segment you plan to visit at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ia/nwis/current/?type=flow. On the “Discharge” graph, find the “median daily flow” triangles. If the current water level reading is more than 50 percent higher than the median in late June to early July, use extra caution.
• When you arrive: If timber and debris are floating down the river or the river is out of its banks or nearly so, don’t launch.
• Consider your experience: Novice paddlers and tubers generally have less control as rivers get swifter, and should factor in more caution.
• Other factors: You can improve your odds by not consuming alcohol, considering weather factors, bringing appropriate rain gear and being vigilant about what’s around the next bend.