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Experts warn of swift water in rivers and streams

By Anne Forester | Posted - May 18, 2010 at 11:35 a.m.



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SALT LAKE COUNTY -- Search and rescue crews are warning people to be aware of high and fast-moving water in Utah's rivers and streams. Warm days can quickly melt mountain snow, creating dangerous conditions.

Crews say water safety is important all times of the year. But, from now until June water levels are at their peaks, increasing the danger.

Sgt. Travis Skinner with the Salt Lake County Search and Rescue Team says, "In the summer we get ready for water hazards, water rescues."

He says high water levels are a big threat, especially to young children.

"We usually lose about five little ones every year because mom and dad just don't recognize the hazard," he says.

Swiftwater Safety:
1. If you're not prepared, stay out! Even two feet of moving water over a road can sweep cars (and you!) away. Always wear your PFD (personal flotation device) and stay alert.
2. Go feet first (see exception in #3). If you're floating free downstream, keeping your feet in front of you (face up) can protect you from rocks, sticks and other obstacles. Those hidden obstacles can really hurt!
3. Watch out for strainers. Strainers are anything (a branch, a rock, a bridge post) that cuts through the water. If you get pinned against one, you may become a permanent fixture. About fifteen seconds before you reach the strainer, switch from feet first position to face first in a sort of doggie paddle. When you reach the strainer, immediately pull yourself up and over it. Get your legs clear so they won't get sucked under, pinning you against the obstruction.
4. Know the area. Scouting a river before floating it will help you avoid surprise dangers.
5. Let someone know where you are and don't go alone.
6. Let someone (the same person as in #5) know when you come home.

Source: UCSSAR.ORG

Skinner says the water is much stronger and faster than people think. Children should stay about 15 feet from the water's edge and need constant supervision.

"It only takes one second of them being out of your sight and you could potentially lose them in the water," Skinner says.

Crews also warn hikers to be prepared.

Sunday, three climbers tried to take a shortcut and became stranded in American Fork Canyon. The climbers had a cell phone and called for help. Rescuers easily found them but spent all night getting them off the mountain.

Skinner says thankfully it was a good outcome. But rescue operations don't come without a cost to taxpayers.

"We all pay," he says, "and we usually pay because of lack of planning."

It took 22 people to rescue those climbers.

Skinner says it's important for hikers to follow a plan, stick to the trail and be prepared with a jacket, water and cell phone at the very least.

E-mail: aforester@ksl.com

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Anne Forester

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