Pueblo emergency responders are asking residents to stay off the Arkansas River, unless they know what they're doing.
Day and night, high temperatures in southern Colorado's high country have melted a good portion of snow pack and engorged the Arkansas River. The rush of water downstream has caused water levels on the Arkansas to rise and current speeds to reach potentially dangerous levels in Pueblo.
The Bureau of Reclamation has already reduced flows coming out of the Pueblo Reservoir by 1,300 cfs (cubic feet per second) but cannot impede the natural flow of the river anymore. With the river still running high and fast, debris is being picked up and carried on the swift current. The high waters have hidden submerged dangers, such as logs and rocks, and the situation has prompted the Pueblo Fire Department to strongly urge recreational use of the river be stopped for the next seven days.
Meanwhile professional guides and experienced kayakers are allowed to be on the river, however they will be watched closely and checked to ensure they're using the proper equipment. Anyone who is on the Arkansas River is required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved lifejacket at all times.
"One slip in the water could get you into the current and then we have a serious situation at hand," says Woody Percival, Public Information Officer for the Pueblo Fire Department. Percival says, innertubes are not adequate flotation devices for the river at this time. He also explains how other dangers on the river can come up quickly with the swiftly moving current, especially around submerged objects. "Depending on what the object is and the speed of the flow of the water over it, it can actually pull you underneath like we see at the low-head dams," says Percival.
Low-head dams, also known as “Drowning Machines” because of the large number of deaths across the nation attributed to them annually, are found at several points along the Arkansas River as it snakes its way through the city of Pueblo. With the current moving so quickly, there is concern the inexperienced will find themselves in a position that could result in death. "Objects can get stuck in there for several minutes sometimes several hours before they can manage to break free of that pull," says Percival.
In a few days, experts expect the rush of spring run-off to start subsiding, and the river should return to normal. However, severe weather that dumps a lot of rain in the area could change that very quickly. Percival recommends just staying off the river for a few weeks, until the run-offs subside and the river returns to normal.