High water brings boating safety to fore

(Originally published in the Telegraph on 6/16/08)

ALTON - With temperatures rising and Memorial Day weekend just around the corner, elevated water levels may spell trouble for boaters and anglers.

"Alton's water level (on the Mississippi River) is forecast to drop by the beginning of next week," said Bill Milner, project engineer at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

However, IDNR engineers can predict conditions only one week in advance. The trend of dropping water levels could reverse before the upcoming holiday weekend.

"That's the million-dollar question right now," said Officer Lou Amighetti with the Missouri State Water Patrol. "The water level can drop, but I don't want to even venture a guess."

Dry local weather will not provide sure signs for boating safety, either.

"Rain up north and to the west will affect water levels in Alton," Amighetti said.

The Missouri River and many other streams drain into the Mississippi, so heavy precipitation in other regions could cause flooding locally.

"The bad part about rising water is the debris," Amighetti said. He said floating timber and underwater objects can inflict sudden damage to watercraft. "Not everything floats to the top. Some debris can be partially submerged."

High water has the potential to cover buoys and navigational landmarks, so boaters may experience more difficulty orienting themselves.

An increase in a river's water intake also produces a "stronger flow with more velocity," Milner said.

Those hoping to enjoy a day on the river can benefit from signing up for an IDNR boating safety class.

"Safety education courses are a key to the Illinois' boating safety effort. Nationwide, nearly 90 percent of all reported fatalities on boats involved boat operators who had not received boating safety instruction," said IDNR Acting Director Sam Flood.