Skip to Content
Colorado Outdoors

Warning on the water: How to keep safe on Colorado’s waterways

Brynn in river

CANON CITY, Colo. (KRDO) -- In 2019, at least 34 water-related recreation deaths happened in our state, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and we've already seen 14 so far this season.

Just two weeks ago, a father and son died after being tossed out of their raft near Pueblo.

Lake drownings, whitewater rafting accidents, and swift water rescues have become all too familiar for our firefighters. We geared up and jumped in the Arkansas River with Colorado Springs firefighters for their annual training in Canon City.

Standing on the edge of the Arkansas River's banks, it's easy to see why it's popular; but it's also deadly.

"The safest way to enjoy the river and waterways is to not get in," says Lieutenant Jason Leach with the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

"We have people here who are good in the water and people who are not very good swimmers. Planning this event takes a tremendous amount of energy, time and watchful eyes," says Lt. Leach.

Leach taught us to float downstream in a defensive swim position. In the river, Brynn Carman was on her back with feed headed downstream, and firefighters quickly got to the next life-saving training maneuver.

"Float downstream, we are going to find an eddy on the side of the bank that the goal is for those firefighters to be able to swim into that eddy to self-rescue," says Lt. Leach. "We are going to come to this portion here with a little faster-moving water and that's where we want to practice our throw bag. We are going to send our firefighters in as swimmers going down the river and they are unprotected and we are going to practice our shore-based rescue skills."

Even while firefighters were training, we saw several tubers a little way down the river get flipped into the water at a trouble spot.

"It's nice to have 10 firefighters here," says Lt. Leach. "They are trained, they are prepared, they have the right equipment and they are ready to go. Their heads are on a swivel, they are paying attention to even the tubers and recreational users going down the river."

But firefighters aren't always around, and when they are called to help it's often too late.

"We treat it like it's very dangerous," says Lt. Leach. "This is a play park, but it is real water, real runoff, real dangers, real boulders -- and the water level can rise and decrease at a moment's notice."

Compared to this time last summer, the current is tame, moving about 1,400 cubic feet per second on this particular day. CSFD says the Arkansas River peaked on June 4th, and the highest flow was measured at 2,600 CFS. But water flows are far from the only threat.

The tuber got caught in a hydraulic, which is when you get stuck under the surface in recirculating water. The other big concern is getting trapped under the water by something you can't see on the surface.

"There are trees and branches, so when the water level does get high it knocks off that debris and branches, causing objects to float in the water which can be dangerous," says Lt. Leach. "Right here you don't see it but downstream there could be a piece of debris we are unaware of."

If you do get near waterways, you're encouraged to always wear a life jacket, have someone with you, and thoroughly examine the danger threat before you jump in.

And it's not just rivers and lakes you need to watch out for. There is a flooding issue at the intersection of Siferd Blvd. and Date St. in Colorado Springs which is right off Austin Bluffs Pkwy.

On May 27th, firefighters had to close that intersection because of street flooding. CSFD says the city has added some pillars to slow the flow and catch debris, but it's still dangerous.

Sometimes it's hard to tell how deep the water is, but remember to live by the saying: turn around don't drown. It only takes six inches of water for our vehicle to loose traction and slide, and a foot of water to float most cars.

Local News / News

Brynn Carman

Brynn is an anchor on Good Morning Colorado. Learn more about Brynn here.