April 12, 2018
Viewed from a distance, the Chattahoochee River looks like a languid, easy-going river, but its appearance can be dangerously deceptive. When the Corps of Engineers releases water from Lake Lanier, the resulting surge of water can cause the river to rise several feet in a short amount of time.
During the summer, the Johns Creek Fire Department Swift Water Rescue Team
responds several times a month to emergency calls to rescue people from the frigid, rushing water of the river. In some cases, they’re asked to help recover bodies.
"The surge of water doesn’t come in a crashing wave,” said Johns Creek Fire Chief Jeff Hogan. “The water level just rises, and if people aren’t paying attention, they can suddenly find themselves stranded on a rock that’s about to go underwater or in a boat that’s being pushed downstream by the current.”
During a release, the Chattahoochee can rise as much as 11 feet in minutes. The water can be as cold as 47 degrees, enough to bring on hypothermia and hamper efforts to swim to shore.
“We’re asking people to please check ahead to see when releases are scheduled,” Hogan said. “Always wear floatation devices, and focus on safety."
The Army Corps of Engineers releases water from Buford Dam during weekday afternoons unless there are unusual downstream water demands or especially heavy rains. In those situations, unscheduled water releases can come in the morning and on weekends.
The Corps gives notice, but the announcements vary from a few minutes to a few hours before the releases. People can call 770-945-1466 or listen to 1610AM. River users may also view the daily schedule for releases
(see the Buford column).
Four warning sirens are placed between Buford Dam and State Road 20. Releases occur within minutes after the sirens stop.
River safety tips:
- Call ahead at 770-945-1466 to learn when releases are scheduled. It’s also a good idea to call just before entering the river. Be aware of the time and head for the shore when the release is scheduled. Even though it may take a while for the water to get to you, don't wait.
- Always wear a flotation device.
- Keep an eye on the water level - note the water level on a solid fixture, such as a bridge support, and check it periodically. If the water level has risen, it's time to get out!
- Just because you're in a boat, don't assume you're safe. People have drowned after their boat struck rocks broadside and flipped.
- Make sure someone knows where you are. If you get into trouble, someone can find you and alert authorities.
- Pay attention to where you are - there are mile-markers along the river. If you have to make an emergency call, you can tell authorities where to find you.