When the temperature warms in the late spring, it entices water enthusiasts into the rivers for boating, rafting, tubing and swimming.
But the river temperature in the North Umpqua River this time of year, is dangerously cold.
Now a water temperature gauge has been installed on the North Umpqua River just west of Brown’s Bridge at the Umpqua Basin Water plant. On Wednesday, it showed a temperature of 8.91 Celsius, and that converts to a bone-chilling 48 degrees Fahrenheit. And that is a dangerous temperature for anyone who goes into the water.
Because of the cold temperatures in the river water, and past drownings that have taken the lives of young people, a group was formed called the Respect the Water Safety Committee. It was formed to try to prevent those tragedies.
Several local partners are participating in the water safety campaign including the YMCA in Roseburg. Y officials say they want people to realize that the cold water is dangerous.
“Two years ago, we lost two young men who were in excellent shape, it wasn’t due to logs, or drinking, it was all about the cold water,”said Gary Williams, the branch director of the YMCA of Roseburg. “So that’s why we came up with this idea as a committee to try to publicize what water temperatures can do to you. If it’s below 60 degrees it’s very deadly.”
Spencer Higginson, a hydrologist and engineer with the National Weather Service in Medford, said the weather service has never had information on how cold the water in the river is. So he joined the committee.
“Our messaging has always been be careful around cold water, but we didn’t have a way of measuring that, “Higginson said. “We decided it was absolutely vital to have water temperatures. Otherwise, how are people going to know?”
So he reached out to the U.S. Geological Survey and then got together with the Cow Creek Tribe and together they got the project done.
Higginson added that even during the summer, when the water gets warmer, it’s still going to be cold, especially this year with the heavy snow pack in the mountains.
By the end of summer, when the water is the warmest, it still may not make it to 70 degrees, which is still dangerous if you stay in it too long.
Ron Hilbert of the Northwest Rafters Association, spends a lot of time on the water and he knows the dangers of cold water, so he takes all the precautions necessary.
“When the water is below 60 degrees, a wet suit or dry suit is essential for your protection,” Hilbert said. “And we always want to remind you to wear a life jacket.”
Local media will publicize the temperature readings. TV stations plan to include the water temperature readings in some of their weather forecasts and websites. Brooke Communication radio stations will do the same, and run safety announcements warning of the danger of the cold water.
Each day on the front page of The News-Review and on the website at www.nrtoday.com, the temperature reading from the sensor will be included, so people can make informed decisions on whether it’s safe to go into the water.
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said water activities will start to get busy the next few weeks. He said the cold water can cause hypothermia, causing a person to lose muscle control. He added that the water temperature is good information for the public to have, but there are the other safety issues too.
“Wear your flotation device, be responsible when it comes to drinking and boating,” said Hanlin. “We lose young people in late spring or early summer every year, when we get a nice warm day and the kids jump in and it’s only 50 degrees and swift, and they’re just overcome by the river.”
The temperature sensor costs about $5,000 a year to operate and it was financed by the Cow Creek Tribe and the USGS. The USGS will maintain the equipment.