First responders urge caution during runoff season

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Photos courtesy of Amy Wetherill Mineral County Search and Rescue teams trained for swift water emergency response at the end of April in preparation for the coming runoff season in the western end of the San Luis Valley.

SAN LUIS VALLEY – As warmer weather comes to the San Luis Valley, local law enforcement, emergency managers and first responders urge the public to use caution on the rivers in the Valley and to pay attention to swift-water conditions as the runoff season moves toward peak flows.

In an interview with Valley Publishing, Mineral County Sheriff Terry Wetherill, Mineral County Emergency Manager Clint Leggitt and Rio Grande County Emergency Manager Brian Burrell spoke about the coming runoff season and gave some tips on how to be safe while still enjoying the rivers around the Valley.

According to reports from several agencies, runoff levels for the 2024 runoff season are on the lower side but according to local officials, that does not remove the danger of swift water and peak river flows during this spring season. “Depending on the rate of snow melt and any kind of rain on snow event, the water levels in rivers and tributaries can continue to rise though I think we are near the peak for the year. It is still important to use caution while out on the river,” said Mineral County Emergency Manager Leggitt.

As water levels rise, more dangers must be considered when recreators head out on the water. “People need to consider bridges. When a river is at its peak, the height of water rafts and bridges must be considered. It is also important to pay attention to personal safety devices such as life jackets and helmets. If you do go overboard or fall into the river, make sure you know what to do to protect yourself, such as moving into a defensive swimming position,” said Mineral County Sheriff Wetherill.

Though local officials are not expecting a high runoff year, teams are still working to prepare for an emergency should one arise. At the end of April teams with the Mineral County Search and Rescue conducted swift water training which included training with ropes and mock rescue.

“We advise people who plan to go out on the river to always go in pairs or if fishing alone, to be knowledgeable of how to react in case of an emergency. If you are not experienced, then find someone who is and have them go with you or teach you fundamentals. And please, if you’re out on the river, wear a life jacket,” said Wetherill.

In addition to safety protocols, it is also important to be aware of floating debris. Trees, limbs and other obstacles that can damage rafts or cause someone to lose balance while wading in the river are floating through the water. Undercurrents can be dangerous in deep areas when the river is moving at peak flows.

Anyone wanting to know more about swift water safety can visit www.swiftwatersafetyinstitute.com to learn safety protocols or receive training.