An Open Letter to Colorado River Users in Grand Junction
A group of six people were enjoying a float on the Colorado River using paddleboards, kayaks, and a raft when they got in trouble near the 5th Street bridge section of the river. Five were able to self-resue, while a woman on a paddleboard went missing. The woman ultimately died later at the hospital despite life-saving efforts.
This could have been a preventable death if the woman on the paddleboard used proper safety equipment while using the river.
If you're going to use the river, please, PLEASE, wear a life vest.
This may seem like the wrong time to criticize the river users, but there isn't an improper time to take about river safety.
The woman wasn't wearing a life jacket and was using the incorrect type of leash for moving water.
The Colorado River is Powerful
The Colorado River is a powerful force. Yes, we see it every day and it just looks like an easy-going flow of water, but let's put some perspective on how much water actually flows through here.
At the time of the accident, the river was flowing around 7,040 cubic feet per second (ft³/s.) That's a ton of water if you think about it. 1 ft³/s is equal to ~449 gallons per minute. That means 7,040 ft³/s is equal to ~3.2 million gallons per minute.
Please, Use Proper Equipment on the Colorado River
My girlfriend and I were just on the river this past Saturday. Let me tell you, it was moving. I know we're in "peak flows" currently, and they're not as bad as they could be, but it was still moving pretty quickly.
I can't tell you how many people were using the river not wearing a life vest. This. Is. A. Must.
You may think you're a strong swimmer, but that doesn't matter when you're on moving water. Especially when the river has as much water flowing through it as it does now.
If you're going to use the river, please, PLEASE, wear a life vest. A personal floatation device (PFD) if you want to get technical. You should be using a Type III at a minimum. This type of PFD will ensure you have the proper floatation, help to keep your head above water and help with range of motion.
While we were on the river this past weekend, my girlfriend fell off her paddleboard and said she was thankful for her PFD. If you don't have a life vest, there are kiosks that provide them at most river put-ins in the Valley.
If you're going to use a paddleboard with a leash, make sure it's the type that has a quick release. The quick-release function gives you the option to separate from the paddleboard if the board or leash gets caught on something. Not using a leash is safer than using a leash that doesn't have a quick-release function.
Pool Toys Are Not Safe for the Colorado River
I couldn't tell you how many people I saw setting off on the river using a pool toy. You know, thin blow up tubes. Inflatable rafts that are not rated for river use. I've even seen people floating the river on pool loungers. Not cool.
As stated above, the Colorado River is a powerful force. It can chew you up, and not spit you back out.
If you plan on using the river, make sure your gear is rated for the river. Rafts (not one from Walmart or places like that,) sit-on-top kayaks, sit-in kayaks with a proper deck to keep water out, paddleboards (most inflatable boards will work on the river,) or a tube that is rated for swift water. There are places like Wet Dreams, Gear Junction, Summit Canyon Mountaineering, and, REI that can help you find the perfect equipment for the river. It's worth it.
If you don't have the proper equipment, there are a few places around the Valley that will rent them to you. Grand Junction Adventures, Wet Dreams, and a couple of places in Palisade that can rent you some watercrafts perfect for the river.
By All Means, Enjoy the Colorado River
I can hear you now, "Shut up, dude. What do you know?"
Not much really, I just enjoy using the river. I like to do it safely. I also don't want to see more people lose their lives on the river.
By all means, get out on the river. Enjoy this natural wonder that flows through our backyard. Take your family, and make a day of it. It's a wonderful place to be.
But! Please, please, please. PRETTY PLEASE, do it responsibly. Use safety equipment. Use the proper vessels for moving water. Get educated on safe river usage.
You can always check the USGS' river flow data website and check the Palisade diversion gauge for approximate flows. They may not always be accurate, but they'll give you a good idea of how fast the river is.
I'm really sorry that we had a loss of life on the river. It breaks my heart for her family and friends. Let's all do our best to make sure we're keeping each other safe on the water.