A deadly three weeks on Colorado waterways

KUSA - It's a rite of passage for nature: Winter snow gives way to spring runoff and waterways get higher and swifter.

This season, though, just since Memorial Day, at least eight people have died in area waterways, including 44-year-old Christopher Sevilla of Colorado Springs. He died Saturday afternoon, when he was thrown from a commercial raft in Royal Gorge. His death is just the latest reminder of how dangerous the water in creeks and rivers have been in the run-up to summer, starting with a boy and his uncle, who drowned in the Poudre River in Larimer County on Memorial Day.

"Out for a fun family day and next thing you know, it's just tragic," said Jerry Keblish, who witnessed the boy's body being pulled out of the water on Memorial Day.

Five days after that, a 26-year-old woman drowned in the Poudre River, after her private raft overturned. Days later, a 13-year-old girl drowned, after being swept down Boulder Creek following a truck accident.

Two men also died in Clear Creek: One in a rafting accident and another presumed dead after he jumped into the water and was swept away. A woman also drowned near a dam in Highland Ditch, north of Longmont, after trying to save her dog, who was in the water.

"The public wants to know what the threats might be for spring runoff," said Mayor Dennis Coombs of Longmont.

There are now some limitations in place on local waterways. Inner tubes and certain inflatable devices are banned on part of the Poudre River, which runs through Ft. Collins. Restrictions are also in place for portions of Clear Creek and Boulder Creek.

Boulder County recently instituted a ban on tubing and other flotation devices on the St. Vrain River, while in Longmont, no one is allowed on the St. Vrain.

Water managers are trying to control the flow of spring runoff into the St. Vrain, by keeping the Ralph Price Reservoir low, in case heavy rains end up adding even more water.

"One of the reasons we have it down as low as we do is to provide that buffer," said Water Resources Administrator Ken Huson.

However, that can mean more water downstream. Just beyond the reservoir, water is moving at a rate of about 3,000 gallons per second,

leaving water managers to try and control what they can, while they can.

"We can't predict you can't have a 90-degree fast warming day and a heavy rainstorm for a couple of days," Mayor Coombs said. "It's unlikely, but no one can make any guarantees in life."

In several of the drownings, those who died were wearing life jackets and helmets. Yet, they still succumbed in the fast-moving water, which shows that even with precautions, sometimes the force of the water can be too much.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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