Officials: Be cautious near water over Memorial Day weekend in Utah

May 24, 2019

Memorial Day weekend is often hailed as the first weekend of summer — the first time many get out to camp, fish, hike or boat.

But with Memorial Day also coinciding with spring runoff, there are some extra precautions people should take to stay safe if they choose to enjoy the possibly rainy weekend outdoors.

The increased water flow coming down rivers like the Provo and American Fork rivers are a major safety concern, said Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

“It can get people into trouble quickly if they get in it or too close to it,” Cannon said. “It’s almost impossible to fight against the current in normal water flow. When it’s high flow, there’s very little room for error.”

And the local water bodies are no doubt running high. Suzie Tenhagen, recreation fee program manager with the Pleasant Grove Ranger District in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said streams and rivers up the canyons are running so fast and high they’re starting to undercut the banks in some areas.

“We are recommending that people, even in picnic areas, stay away from the edge,” Tenhagen said. “Those could give way at any time.”

Even an adult who is a strong swimmer would have a hard time fighting a swift current, or could hit their head on a rock or log. The only way to be truly safe is to keep distance from any fast moving waters.

One precaution to take especially, Cannon said, is to keep an eye on children.

“Kids have no ability to get themselves out,” Cannon said. “Even in a lake with no current, the water is cold enough at this time of year that it only takes a few minutes for someone to become incapacitated from the cold.”

Cannon recalled an incident in 2011 when a child drowned in Starvation Creek.

“He was only out of sight for a minute,” Cannon said.

Over the 2017 Memorial Day weekend, a young girl was swept away by the fast current of the Provo River at Bridal Veil Falls. The girl drowned, as did her mother and a bystander who jumped in to try to save her.

Cannon said the UCSO has responded before to people who try going for a swim on a sunny spring day, only to realize they can’t make it out of the water because they were too cold. The human body cools 24 times faster in water than in air, Cannon said.

“You’re going to become incapacitated more quickly in water,” Cannon said.

If people are participating in activities like boating or paddle boarding on the water, Cannon cautioned that everyone on the boat should have a life jacket. Children are required to by law, but adults should wear one too.

Many typical recreational areas will still be closed over Memorial Day weekend due to high snow levels. The Alpine and Nebo loop roads will both be closed into June.

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