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Swift water rescue crews warn of deadly 'big water' year on Colorado rivers after record snowpack

Snow melt delayed by cooler than normal spring
Posted: 4:33 PM, May 31, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-31 20:44:13-04
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GOLDEN, Colo. -- Get ready for one of the best rafting seasons in years. But, with that, also comes a danger: deadly swift-moving waters.

"With the very high snowpack we had and the late spring and late warm weather — we haven't seen that snow come down yet,” said Rachel Kohler, an engineer with West Metro Fire who just completed a week of swift water rescue training.

At the moment, Clear Creek and other Colorado creeks and rivers are figuratively at a trickle.

"We're at historic lows for this date," Kohler said. “But, that’s about to change.”

"It truly can be a life or death situation," said Lee Maulsby, a firefighter, paramedic and swift water rescue instructor.

Swift water rescue crews are warning river enthusiasts that this year could be particularly dangerous, especially to the novice.

“When that water comes down, it's going to come down in a hurry," Kohler said.

"We know people are going to be in the river," Maulsby said. “But they have to be careful.”

West Metro and three other local departments are training this week on Clear Creek, mimicking common rescue scenarios.

“We also, unfortunately, mimicked what it would be like if we had smaller people who couldn't help themselves," Kohler said.

Maulsby said it’s going to be a great year, as long as recreational users exhibit common sense.

"We have white water rafting, we have kayakers, fishermen, people tube down these rivers,” he said. “We're not trying to keep people out of the river. What we want is people to be safe."

"If you're not trained recreationally or professionally, there are more risks to moving powerful water than you can imagine," Kohler said.