River conditions could be unsafe for FATFAR in Chippewa Falls

Chippewa Falls (WQOW) – The flood warning for most local counties has ended. While the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers are no longer at official flood risk, that doesn’t mean they’re safe for locals just yet.

Recent rains have left the Chippewa River rushing. Flooding is no longer a concern, but safety is for this weekend’s FATFAR, an annual tubing event that launches just below the Chippewa Falls dam. 

"Anytime you’re going to be using the river when the water levels are elevated, that means that the flow rate is elevated," said Chief Matthew Kelm of the Chippewa Falls Police Department. "You’re going to be going faster, and that always makes the river more dangerous."

The Chippewa Falls police and fire departments have been keeping a close eye on the river. Kelm said river rescues are difficult, and first responders can’t guarantee everyone’s safety unless people take responsibility for themselves.

"People just need to take precautions and decide if this is the year they want to go tubing down the river or not," said Kelm. "If they do, just to be extra careful. Wearing life vests, along with the tubes and things like that are things that they can do to make sure they’re safe."

Chippewa Falls police are asking that tubers avoid launching at the flooded Riverfront Park anytime soon.

News 18 Chief Meteorologist Nick Grunseth anticipates the river will be higher than normal, with a strong current Sunday. On Thursday. the river was expected to be about 17 feet. That’s more than four times what it was before the rain Sunday and Monday. The river is slowly receding, but it could still be dangerous.

"There will be a point where we’ll decide whether we’re going to rent our equipment and do shuttles or not," said Loopy Kleich, owner of Loopy’s Grill & Saloon. "We’re hoping to make that decision on Saturday afternoon. Obviously safety is our number one concern. We’re not going to put anyone on the river if we feel that it’s unsafe."

If river conditions are too aggressive, Kleich said he can decide not to rent tubes to people, but he can’t stop people from bringing their own and floating.

The Chippewa Falls Fire Department will be on standby with its rescue boat and raft in case of an emergency. Fire Chief Mike Hepfler said he doesn’t bring in extra staff, and the department hasn’t been needed for rescues in years.

If Loopy’s is on for FATFAR, they will only be renting to those 21 and older.

To keep track of the Chippewa River conditions, see here.

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