Expert: Waterways flowing too fast for people to safely enjoy them

If you’re planning to enjoy the water amenities in the Oil Region this week after the rain that fell over the weekend kept you inside, the best advice is “just don’t”, says Greg Kaiser, of Frenchcreek Kayaks in Utica.

“French Creek at Utica was 9.07 feet this morning,” said Kaiser. “If you have to paddle right now,” he said, “go to a lake.” Thanks to the weekend’s rain, said Kaiser, the region’s waterways are both too high and flowing too fast right now for people to safely enjoy them.

“If the Kinzua Dam is discharging,” said Kaiser, “that slows French Creek up” from stabilizing. As of Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m., the Kinzua Dam report indicated the facility was discharging at a rate of 9,700 cubic feet per second.

When the Kinzua Dam discharges at a rate of 6,000 cubic feet per second, access to the tailwaters just beyond the dam are closed to recreational use.

Generally, Kaiser says, it can take a couple of days after rain like this weekend’s to stop impacting waterway safety. “Call ahead to check,” said Kaiser, before heading out to any waterways for the next few days. “Check the water conditions and the weather conditions,” he said. The United States Geological Survey provides an online, interactive national map of stations where users can check the height, discharge, and precipitation of their intended waterway before deciding whether or not to postpone. “Even isolated storms” like the ones experienced in Venango this weekend, said Kaiser, “can bring that (French) Creek up.”

Even, said Kaiser, if you’ve been enjoying the region’s creeks and rivers for years, “I don’t care how experienced you are.” Hazards, he said, can come up at any time but especially after rains like these.

Trees – either already down and lying along the bank, or knocked down by wind – can be submerged and invisible, but no less dangerous when the water is high and fast, Kaiser explained. Even just pulling off to the bank – which is the best thing to do if someone finds themselves in water they can’t handle, Kaiser said – can be dangerous.

Once landed, Kaiser went on, stranded paddlers should be as easily accessible to first responders as possible.

For now, Kaiser cautioned, stay off the water and enjoy the results of the rain from the bank.