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Poudre River dangerous this season due to above average runoff

The Cache la Poudre River, Colorado’s only Congressionally designated Wild and Scenic River, has been tending towards the wild side of its title in past weeks.

Due to an above average snowpack and recent hot weather, the spring runoff has led to a swifter and higher river than is typical for this time of year. The discharge at the mouth of the canyon has been as high as 3,500 cubic feet per second. Averages have historically been closer 2,000 cubic feet per second for the month of June.

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The Poudre Fire Authority averages between five and ten rescues annually, generally during the spring runnoff. However, high water, fast-moving currents and submerged debris have already led to six rescues this season. 

On June 10, Poudre Fire Authority crews, EMT’s, Larimer County Dive Rescue and Fort Collins Natural Area rangers teamed up to pull four adult inner-tubers from the river. All four adult tubers were pulled to safety without injury. 

Poudre Fire Authority rescued four adult tubers on June 10. Photo courtesy of Poudre Fire Authority.
Poudre Fire Authority rescued four adult tubers on June 10. Photo courtesy of Poudre Fire Authority.

Their water rescue teams include specially trained swimmers and inflatable rafts. Tubers are the most common victims, Poudre Fire Authority Captain Jon McKeon said.

The tubers were caught in a powerful hydraulic created by a low-head dam near College Avenue in Fort Collins. This sort of hydraulic catches unsuspecting boaters, tubers and swimmers at the base of a small drop-off, and circulates the trapped victims in a washing-machine-like motion.

Low-head dams have killed more than 440 people nationwide since the 1950s. Since 1997, the Poudre has been responsible for the deaths of 15 people. 

For those spending time on the river during runoff season, the PFA encourages people to go with one of the whitewater outfitters in town. These outfitters are professionally trained and certified, with experience in swift water rescue, CPR and first aid. Many outfitters provide helmets, life vests and wetsuits. 

The PFA and Battalion Chief John Lippert urge anyone near the Poudre to, “always wear a life vest and know what you are doing.”

Extreme caution should be used when spending time on or near the river. Have a plan, communicate what you are doing, where you are going and when you expect to return.

Do not rely on cell service in the Poudre Canyon. Use the buddy system and never go alone. Due to the high flow rates, river banks can be undercut and unstable. Even in the summer months, hypothermia is a concern. Wetsuits are also highly recommended for those planning to enter the water, as water temperatures can be in the low 40s even during mid-day sun.

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Recreationalists should remember to “Reach or throw, don’t go.” Do not enter the water if someone is caught in fast moving currents. Instead, try to throw a rope or extend a pole, paddle, or tree branch out to them. Call 9-1-1 immediately to report any incident. 

Collegian Reporter Cody Moore can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @codymoorecsu.

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