As temperatures warm and flowing rivers beckon, people all over the state are digging out boating, fishing and swimming gear that has been packed away all winter. The time is right to remind you all that May is National Water Safety Month!
Idaho is the greatest of all river states. In fact, many Idahoans refer to our rivers and public lands as our "second paycheck." Whether you fish, swim, camp, boat or just love the beauty of water, Idaho’s lakes and wild rivers really do add to the quality of life here in our state.
They are also one of the most dangerous aspects of life here. With all this in mind, consider a few tips to stay safe this summer.
1. Wear a life jacket!
Life jackets, also known as PFDs (personal flotation devices), save lives-but only if we use them. The saddest moments every summer are when people, often adults, drown in Idaho’s majestic lakes or rivers because they weren’t wearing PFDs. Our water is cold, and that alone can take your breath away and disorient you. Strong currents can pull you underwater or sweep you away from the shore. Or you could get stranded in water, exposed for longer than you intended to be. In all these situations, a PFD could be the difference between life and death. You are never too old to wear a PFD, no matter how strong or how experienced you are in the water.
2. Stay out of canals!
Canals are part of life in the arid western United States. Thousands of miles of canals exist in Idaho, and they deliver irrigation water all summer long. On a hot summer day, a canal may look like an inviting option for cooling off, but don’t be fooled. Canals are typically even harder to get out of than flowing rivers because their smooth concrete walls don’t provide you anything to grab. If you have children, teach them that canals are dangerous. Tell them clearly: Never go into a canal!
3. Know before you go!
This year, Idaho river flows are breaking records, running much higher than usual. Higher flows wash trees and other debris into rivers all over the state, creating new and unknown hazards. Water years like this one create new rapids and alter old ones.
Before you head out on the river this year, get good river intel. Call the relevant county sheriff’s office to check on river conditions. If they don’t have an answer, they can direct you to someone who does. Local folks, outfitters and people who run other water-based businesses can also give you information about the rivers they know.
I can’t say it enough-Idaho is having an epic water year, and many of our rivers will have changed a lot since the last time you visited them. Water is incredibly powerful and should always be treated with respect. You will never beat the river, but it can beat you. Don’t become a water fatality statistic. Wear a PFD and be smart in and around all waterbodies. Now, go have fun!