Ask a Sheriff: Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott

Q. Could you please address the issue of river safety?

A. Normally at this time of the year the Mississippi River water levels are low, the current is slow, and in many areas one can walk across the river. That is not the case this year.

Heavy thunderstorms over the last several weeks including the one on Aug. 5 have produced large amounts of rainfall that has resulted in high water levels, fast, powerful currents, reverse flowing eddy currents and large amounts of debris, especially logs and in some cases entire trees, floating in the river. In many areas, trees on the riverbank  that have been blown over by the wind are lying in the river. River currents are averaging 3 mph and in some areas the current is in excess of 6.5 mph. Water visibility is very poor, and is less than a foot in many areas. As a result, many hazards such as debris, logs, branches, rocks, sandbars and the river bottom are not visible to recreational users of the river, especially those diving off bridges or the shore into the river.

The present river conditions present hazards to recreational users of the river such as boaters, fishermen, personal watercraft operators, canoeists, kayakers, tubers, persons jumping off of bridges and persons “free floating” without a tube or a life jacket. If you fall in or slip off the bank into the river, you will be rapidly swept downstream. Entanglement with sunken debris and downed trees at the river’s edge is a distinct possibility, with the fast flowing water trapping you against the obstruction, unable to free yourself, and possibly pulling you underwater even with your life jacket on.

The Sheriff’s Office recommends the following for all recreational users of the river:

1. Let someone know where you are going on the river, where you plan to exit the river and how long you expect to be gone.  Bring a cell phone with you.
2. Wear your personal flotation device (life jacket) at all times while on the river. This includes tubers and “free floaters.”
3. Do not jump or dive off of bridges into the river. Many unseen hazards exist.
4. Carry plenty of fuel for your trip. You will burn more fuel than you may realize traveling upstream against the fast-flowing water.
5. Avoid the use of alcohol while recreating on the river.
6. Do not hesitate to call 911 if you run into difficulties on the river.

Extreme caution is advised for all boating and recreational activities on the Mississippi River.