“Know before you go,” “Scout ahead,” and “Proper planning.” These phrases ring true, however when high temperatures are added to the mix, our natural impulses to cool off in a nearby waterway are hard to ignore. Especially if you don’t have air conditioning! But those impulses can be dangerous. High rocks, anyone? Combine alcohol, dehydration, and social pressure to the mix and there’s a high probability for tragedy.
Not to be a stick in the mud, but cooling off and great memories can happen with just a few minutes of research and getting your bearings before “jumping in.” Do you know how the waterbody was formed? All reservoirs are man-made, so you can count on steep drop-offs and tree stumps (Dramatic Hagg Lake Drop Offs -KOIN News). With low water levels from this historic drought, you can also count on the banks being unstable. (Insert the voice in your head about wearing a life jacket -but who wears those when its hot out?).
Low water levels mean the water is warmer and there’s less current, right? Not necessarily. It depends on the waterbody. Reservoirs were once just rivers. When the water level drops, they take on their original dynamics. Rivers constantly change. In a river without any obstructions, the water moves the fastest at the surface and slower near the bottom. But how many rivers exist without obstructions? Here are some examples of how the current changes in streams and rivers:
- Eddies are created behind an obstruction as water fills in the void behind it. The current is actually moving upstream. This creates a “swirling” motion of the water and can entrap boats (and people).
- Hydraulics are another dynamic, where water flows over an obstruction where a depression is formed behind it. The water fills in the void, creating an upstream flow toward the obstruction, pinning boats (and people). A low head dam is a perfect example of a hydraulic.
- Riffles are shallow areas where the water flows at a slower velocity but a higher turbulence (current appears faster) and are usually caused by an increase in a river or stream’s slope or an obstruction in the water. Deeper pools generally form downstream of a riffle where the current will change once again.
Another hot spell is upon us. People will be spontaneous and grab their pool toys, pack their coolers and head to the nearest river. The water will be shallow and appear calm. Very inviting. But take 60 seconds and scope out the river. Ask people who’ve been out there if there’s anything they need to be aware of. Pack lots of hydrating drinks and stash your trash. Most of all, take a craft that was designed for a river, like an inflatable boat that has thicker material, multiple air chambers and has oars or paddles. Carry your life jackets and have a sound-producing device on board, like a whistle. Better yet, wear your life jacket and have a whistle attached! Use your oars or paddle to maneuver well in advance of a root wad or fallen tree. People fall out of inner tubes and pool toys all the time when they feel really relaxed…and the devices will float away faster than a person can swim to catch them. Add heat exhaustion, dehydration, and fitness level into account, and this could put your muscles into full-on cramp mode. And that’s how people get into trouble. It doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are.
The Marine Board wants you to have fun out there. Get relief from the heat. But be smart. Plan and scout ahead. Know before you go. Definitely “look” before you “leap.” But remember…whatever the outcome of your day on the water, it all comes down to the decisions you make.