Iowa DNR Warns Against Boating Right Now Due to Cold Water and High River Levels

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Now that spring temperatures have finally arrived, many Iowans likely want to start doing some outdoor activities like going boating. However, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said that is not the best idea in these early weeks of spring.

“Everybody has the spring fidgets, right, so everybody wants to get out on the water. Today is an absolutely beautiful day, but what people need to remember is the temperature of the water is still ice cold, the water is high, so you have two factors right there you need to pay attention to,” Iowa DNR Outreach Coordinator for River Programs Todd Robertson said.

Those two factors make going out into the water unsafe for new boaters.

“If they were to happen to dump their boat and hit the water, you can experience something called cold water shock, you can get hypothermia really easily. Because the water is still in the mid to upper 40s, in that range to where it’s still really ice cold,” Robertson said.

High water levels also bring other hazards rushing downstream.

“What happens during high water is all this debris and all these tree limbs come washing downstream and they usually start collecting on the outside of bends, and so you’ve got big piles of wood where the current is going right to. So if you don’t know how to navigate your boat, you’re going to get sucked into that, and we call those a strainer.”

Robertson said they’ve already had several people get stuck in that type of situation.

National Weather Service hydrologist Jeff Zogg said the water levels are higher right now due to spring snow melting.

“We are seeing the levels at Saylorville Lake coming up a little bit, and that’s because of the increase in flows coming down the Des Moines River from northwest Iowa," he said. "The Raccoon River is not rising so much, but there’s a little bit of a rise just because of the rain, the runoff from the rain we received last week. But for the next seven days it’s going to be fairly dry, which is nice because it’s going to give the ground a chance to dry out and a chance for those river levels to go back down."

Robertson said it’s best to wait several weeks before getting out in a boat so the water level goes down and has a chance to warm up.

“Wait until that water is at least into the 60s. When it starts getting into the 60s, upper 60s, 70s, then you know the water is starting to get warm. When it’s still in the 50s and still on that threshold of being super, super cold, hypothermia is still a great risk. And it also depends on what the weather surroundings are. If it’s windy, if it’s overcast, that’s going to contribute to you getting hypothermia too if you get wet,” Robertson said.

Visit the United States Geological Survey website for water levels and temperatures before gearing up.