Boise River is running high — and calls for water rescue are too

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comJuly 7, 2014 

0719 local floaters

When things go wrong on the Boise River, the Boise Fire Dive Rescue team responds to help. The team has been called out a lot this summer, in part due to the high and fast water. Dive rescue officials urge boaters to bring paddles and to steer clear of bridge pillars. They don't recommend tying tubes together, as they can easily get hung up on things.

JOE JASZEWSKI — jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

In a typical summer, the Boise Fire Dive Rescue team responds to about 35 calls for water rescue. As we start the second week of July, the the team has already responded to 25 calls, according to one of the dive team captains.

There were six calls for water rescue on Sunday alone: Four were rafters who had flipped at the Broadway bridge, and the other two were those who met a similar fate at the ParkCenter bridge. Response was particularly swift because members of the dive team were out on the river much of the day — with the expectation that calls would be up during holiday weekend.

So why so many calls for help this year?

One factor is the high flow rate of the river right now, Captain Greg Ramey said. The flow rate ranges from about 900 cubic feet per second to 1,500 cubic feet per second in the summer, depending on irrigation needs and other factors, a water manager said.

"We have to release water every year out of the Boise system to augment the down-migrating salmon in the lower Snake and Columbia," said Brian Sauer, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. "Right now, we're running our salmon flow augmentation."

With temperatures in the upper 90s and low 100s, irrigation demands are high now. The river is running at about 1,500 cfs at Glenwood Bridge; it's a little higher upstream.

Sauer said the river is about at what it was in 2010 and 2012. But last year at this time, it was around 900 cfs.

"It's on the high side of normal," Sauer said. He expects the salmon augmentation to end around July 20, and the flow rates will drop below 1,000 cfs.

Given that the water is flowing high and fast, it's incumbent upon floaters to pay close attention to places they might get hung up. It's a good idea to steer clear of bridge pillars — and bringing paddles can help with that.

"They need to always be looking downstream to see where the current is going to take them," Ramey said. "A lot of people think it's an amusement park. It's a wild river that happens to run through town."

Ramey said tying intertubes together can cause problems when they got hung up on things.

"They come up to an obstacle and part of their party goes one side and part the other. The rope ends up trapping their entire flotilla," he said.

On Sunday, an 18-year-old woman and 12-year-old girl were reportedly flipped out of a raft. They didn't know how to swim and weren't wearing life vests— but they were later found safe at the takeout at Ann Morrison Park.

Officials recommend life vests, shoes and a meetup plan for groups in case floaters are separated. Get more tips for floating the river here.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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