Got plans to enjoy the river?  Beware of hidden dangers

Got plans to enjoy the river?  Beware of hidden dangers

by Deputy Derrick Strauch

We are lucky to live in such a beautiful area with access to several local rivers.  One of my favorite things to do in the summer is go rafting with a group of friends. But rivers can also be very dangerous, especially this year.   

As a Rural Area Deputy with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, it’s part of my job to keep people safe on our river. This year, we had a very long winter and an even wetter spring. All of that is translating to a lot of water for the Colorado River.  When we get a lot of water, we also get many hazards that we are already seeing on the river.

The Hazards

Debris and tree snags are creating dangerous undercurrents. What oftentimes happens, is the current will pin you and your raft against the debris. The raft gets punctured and instead of going over the hazard, the current will actually push you under, trapping you underwater. Not all hazards can be seen from the surface, even gentle stretches of water can have dangerous undercurrents.

These conditions also create unstable riverbanks. If you like to walk along the river, be aware the ground can erode underneath, and break away without warning. If you’re standing on it, you can get swept away.

We are seeing very cold water temperatures that can turn deadly for even the strongest of swimmers.  Hypothermia is no joke.

Historically, high water coupled with fast-moving currents, debris, and cold water temperatures has been a deadly combination especially for novice and unprepared river enthusiasts.  

So, how do you enjoy the river safely?

Life jackets, Life jackets, Life Jackets!!!!

There is a reason these personal floatation devices are called “life” jackets. They really do save lives. This is NOT the year to go without one. In fact, if you don’t have one, or forget one, you can get one for free! Life jackets are available at many Mesa County boat ramps to borrow thanks to the Save-A-Life Jacket Program of Grand Junction.

I can’t recommend enough using equipment designed for the river. Sub-standard equipment will not protect you from river hazards.  Pool toys and floaties are perfect for a relaxing day at a calm lake or a pool, not the river, especially this year.

Just like the weather changes each day, so does the river. Hazards, debris, currents, will change and sometimes dramatically from one day to the next.  Check conditions each time BEFORE going on the river.

Enjoy the river SOBER. Rafting impaired puts your life at risk.

I recommend taking the time to understand your skill level, and more importantly, do not attempt a section of the river beyond your skill level. So, why not take a friend, or better yet, two friends. It’s best to go in groups of at least three rafts.  That way if someone has an emergency, there are two other rafts in your group who can help.

Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.  It helps rescue crews to know where to look for you.

If you need help call us

Call 911 if you need help. The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office has boats for this very reason.  We also work with Mesa County Search and Rescue, a very skilled volunteer group, to help find and rescue you if you need help. Search and rescue is a FREE service. Don’t hesitate to call us.

Do you have a CORSAR Card?

If you ever need Search and Rescue, there is no cost to you, but it does cost money. By purchasing a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card you are contributing to the Search and Rescue Fund, which will reimburse these teams for costs incurred in search and rescues across the State of Colorado. Search and rescues are a FREE service. The CORSAR card is available for $3 for a one-year card and $12 for a five-year card. Visit to learn more.

Deputy Derrick Strauch is a Rural Area Deputy for the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and an outdoor recreation enthusiast. During his 12 years as a law enforcement officer, he’s spent many seasons patrolling the waters of Colorado.

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