Understanding the Power and Danger of Our Rivers

Understanding the Power and Danger of Our Rivers

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Jed Boal ReportingSearch crews last night pulled the body of a 32-year-old Orem man from the swift current of Big Cottonwood Creek. He was forced under a small waterfall by the power of the current and recovered more than four hours after he was swept out of sight.

The swift current will last on many of our creeks and rivers long after flood danger subsides. Four people have died in Utah creeks in the last ten days. The power of the run-off simply demands respect. If the frothing roaring water does not frighten you, warnings to stay away are widespread.

Yesterday 32-year-old James Barksdale of Orem was swept under Big Cottonwood Creek. Earlier a witness saw them.

Larry Schmidt, Witness: "One was actually in the water waist high, trying to cross. He was struggling a little bit."

Investigators do not know why the men were in the middle of the creek, but suspect they may have been drinking. Special Operations Lientenant Jon Fassett sees the danger first hand.

Lt. Jon Fassett, Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office: "I don't think people realize how much force there is."

Here's a helpful physics lesson I learned today. The water is moving six miles per hour. If I'm standing in two-and-a-half feet of water the current exerts 40 pounds of pressure against my body. That may not sound like a lot, but consider this: my body is more buoyant in the creek, and the streambed is slippery, so it doesn't take much for the current to move me away.

Lt. Jon Fassett: "Even though you could step in part way in a river like this, you might think this is ok. Then you venture out into the middle where the big force is against you where it's deep."

The current is swifter in the middle, and the swift water can pin you under a small waterfall or hydraulic, commonly known as a hole.

Lt. Jon Fassett: "As it comes over a wash, some of the water goes on, and some of it keeps circulating in that wash."

The victim yesterday was found in a hold under a four-foot waterfall.

In addition, the water temperature is about 34-degrees. So, if you go in the water, the chances of coming out alive are very slim.

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