After deadly spring on local rivers, how to determine if the water is safe

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Eau Claire (WQOW)– This is the deadliest time of year on the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers, evidenced by one death this spring.

Eau Claire Fire Department Captain David Whitehouse said when the river level is high, there’s a high risk of being swept away. And we don’t need rain to make it happen. “We could have no rain in Eau Claire, and yet have water levels increase here and it depends on what happens upriver,” Whitehouse said. Whitehouse said if the parks are still flooded that’s a good indication the river is dangerous.

Once the river levels go down, there are still some precautions you should take. Whitehouse said that includes always staying in the middle of the river while tubing. Drifting to the outside of curves can turn dangerous. “The current will be the strongest on the outside of the turn, it will also be the deepest there and that’s also where debris will be deposited, so you have a tendency to have more snags on that portion,” Whitehouse said. “The current is faster and it’s always going to be deeper on the outside of the turns.”

However, there’s one foolproof safety precaution Whitehouse said anyone can do: life vests. “It’s virtually impossible to drown if you’re wearing a life vest, so the first and most important thing is to have a life jacket on when you’re in the water.”

In less than two weeks, thousands of people will spend the day tubing on the Chippewa river for FATFAR. Loopy Kleich, owner of Loopy’s Bar and Grill, rents more than 500 tubes so people can spend the day on the water. Safety is his top priority, and the water determines whether he’ll rent his tubes to people. “If the water is too high or moving too fast we won’t rent our tubes,” Kleich said. “The river is not our property so we can’t tell people not to go out but we will recommend for them to not go on the water if we don’t feel it’s safe.

For more information on water safety, click here.

Shannon Satterlee

Shannon Satterlee

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