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High water causes hazardous conditions for river recreation

Issued June 20, 2014

June 19, 2014
From: Iowa Department of Natural Resources , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

DES MOINES Paddling enthusiasts need to evaluate stream levels before heading out to paddle this week.

Recent heavy rains have created rising water levels across the state and hazardous conditions on many rivers and streams.

As rivers rise woody debris, like branches, logs and in some cases entire trees, float downstream lodging at the base of bridge pilings and on the outsides of tight bends.

The combination of logjams and high flows create hazardous conditions which can trap and pull tubers and paddlers underwater.

"Logjams can be difficult to avoid at low to normal flows, but at high flows they're extremely difficult to avoid and can be deadly," said John Wenck, water trails coordinator for the Iowa DNR. High water levels demand greater skills to avoid obstacles or hazards.

"Tubers are more vulnerable than paddlers because they lack the ability to steer," he said. "They are at the whim of the current which tends to direct them toward the areas where woody debris has accumulated."

With increased temperatures and high humidity it might be tempting to throw caution to the wind, but it's important to be vigilant if you plan to paddle or tube on rivers this summer.

Wenck offered the following safety tips for tubing and paddling Iowa rivers:

Avoid paddling or tubing rivers that are rising: Learn more before you go. Review river heights from the nearest U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges at 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.

Wear your life jacket: Properly fastened and cinched life jackets save lives. Life jackets are mandatory for any child under age 13.

Always pay attention to what is downstream: If timber and debris are floating down the river or the river is out of its banks or nearly so, don't launch.

Develop skills to avoid hazards: Novice paddlers and tubers generally have less control as rivers get swifter, and should be more cautious.

Avoid logjams or woody debris piles: Most high water accidents involve an obstruction. Downed trees and branches can trap boats and people under water. Bridge piers or boulders can pin people on the upstream side. Low-head dams can re-circulate and trap vessels under water.

Don't paddle or tube alone

Let others know where you're going and when you plan to return

Avoid or limit alcohol consumption.



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