With nearly 1.8 million people visiting Columbus each year, the Chattahoochee River sees plenty of action from tourists, rafters and residents. But the river’s normally placid appearance hides a dangerous secret, and rescuers with Columbus Fire and EMS are beseeching people to respect the river for what it is — a powerful force of nature full of unseen obstacles.
“As with any body of moving water, there are inherent hazards that are present, and by the nature of the Chattahoochee River’s swift water, visitors and the citizens living in the region should be aware of those hazards to prevent injuries and drownings,” the department wrote in a press release. The hazards they listed include:
- Swift moving water (In some areas the water looks calmer than it actually is)
- Rapidly rising water (Due to the Georgia Power Dam generation schedules, which can change on a daily basis)
- Murky water which can obscure hazards and drop-offs
- Slippery Rocks
- Undertows (Caused by the hydraulics of the water moving over rocks and drop-offs)
- Underwater stumps and strainers that can be littered with fishing hooks.
Because of these dangers, since 2012 it has been illegal to be on the river between the North Highlands Dam and the southern property line of the Columbus Iron Works Convention and Trade Center without wearing a personal flotation device.
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After a recent string of deaths on the Chattahoochee this summer, police have stepped up enforcement of the law. A man was arrested for not wearing a life vest in late June after he was rescued from the river.
Authorities say the tough measures are meant to save lives.
Robert Futrell, assistant chief of the Columbus Department of Fire & Emergency Medical Services, told the Ledger-Enquirer that over 35 years, he’d “never recovered a body that’s wearing a life jacket.”
Columbus Fire and EMS offered a list of safety measures for visitors, apart from wearing a life vest:
- Even while wearing a PFD, parents should not be further than arm’s length from children in the river.
- Do not let children get within 5 feet of the waterline without a PFD. (Everything can be seen safely from behind the guardrails of the Riverwalk)
- Do not wade in the river at even in ankle deep water. (It can be ankle deep but drop off to 10 feet in 1 step)
- Avoid alcohol when close to the riverbank
- Do not walk on slippery rocks
- Maintain awareness of rising water. (Due to generation of the dam, the water can rise rapidly and visitors my not hear or understand the warning sirens)
- Do not walk out on rocks into the river when the levels are low. The rapidly rising water can quickly surround the rocks cutting off the escape back to the bank.
- Do not attempt to raft or canoe down the rapids without proper training and equipment. Utilize a professional guide service.
- Unless properly trained and equipped, do not attempt to enter the water to save someone in the river.
- Report unsafe acts to the nearest police officer.
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE