It’s springtime and river flows are ripening, and thanks to Utah's healthy snowpack this winter, spring runoff is supposed to be 120 to 130% above average. Although more water is good in our dry state, these flows can be dangerous – in spring 2017 six people drowned as a consequence of these hazardous flows.
As the weather gets warmer, Utah’s rivers and streams are experiencing dangerous river currents. Spring conditions create additional hazards such as debris in the river and extremely cold water. Staying away is the best way to prevent tragedy.
“Respect it and keep your distance. Stay at least 10 feet or more away from the shore. If the bank is steeper, stay even farther away. Just keep your distance. Prevention is always the best medicine,” said Gregory Davis, the assistant director of Outdoor Programs at Utah State University.
Falling into one of Utah’s cold rivers is extremely hazardous. When someone falls into a cold river or stream, studies show they have one minute of initial shock in which they lose control of their breathing. Afterward, there are about 10 minutes before they lose fine motor skills and one hour before loss of consciousness due to hypothermia.
If someone you’re with falls into a dangerous stream, Davis said that it’s best to avoid creating a second victim. You can shout and yell for your friend so that they know where to swim or extend a branch for assistance, but you should not go into the water. If necessary, call for emergency services.
What if you end up in the water?
“The first thing to do is to try and be calm,” Davis said. “You’ve got to control your breathing. You don’t want to inhale any water. When you see the blue sky, take a breath. Once that’s good to go, now you’re going to think about how you can get out. Keep your feet high. You don’t want to try to stand up in moving water. That can be really dangerous and you can get your foot entrapped. Keep your feet up and look around - look for somewhere to go towards shore and swim aggressively toward that bank. Fight – your life depends on it – give it everything you can to get out of this situation.”