Safety tips for adventuring in our local rivers as the weather gets warmer

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Photo by Lauren Brenner
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With our weather getting brighter and sunnier, spending days on the local rivers seems like a blast. But keep in mind practicing safety measures when you are enjoying the creeks and rivers.

“Every year around this time of year, is that even though when, outdoor temperatures are getting warm and a swim in the river is really appealing, rivers are still swift and cold this time of year,” said Kathleen Zontos, Service Hydrologist at the National Weather Service.

And that’s a result of snow melt from higher elevations. As snow melts from the mountains it causes river water flows to be higher, move quicker, and have colder temperatures than normal. If you are in the water, hypothermia can overcome you in less than 20 minutes, depending on the water temperature. However, unlike cold water warmer water temperatures later in the year can cause algae blooms which is also a precaution, especially with children and dogs.

“Our biggest safety tip when it comes to river safety are there’s three things you want to look out for you want to check the water level, the water temperature and also the current,” said Talia Flores, Public Information Officer at Humboldt Bay Fire.

The California Department of Water Resources provides information on water temperatures, water levels, and currents. Another tip is, if you can throw a stick into the river and it travels faster than you can swim, that means take caution.

“Another thing you can do is just choose your river spot well,” Zontos said. “And always check it out. You want to choose spots with very slow-moving water and then also, look around for any potential hazards like submerged trees.”

Something else to keep in mind is that rivers can be deceiving. Water flows faster and deeper just a short distance from shore. The current and the cold water can overpower even the strongest swimmers. Through the year, rivers will change course or fill with debris, some of your favorite swimming spots might look different. 

“The flows are always creating changes in the rivers,” Zontos said. “They’re living, breathing things, and they’re always changing and so it’s a part of their natural life.”

Hazardous conditions in rivers can occur all year long. It is important to practice water safety tips. Learning rafting and swimming safety measures will help to avoid drownings or other accidents so you can enjoy your time on our local rivers this season. 

The National Weather Service office in Eureka offers life jacket rentals for infants, children and adults. For more information, call their office to reserve a life jacket for your days playing in the river.