Kimberley Search and Rescue president says he's concerned about the number of people likely to take to the backcountry and rivers this spring and summer, potentially without the experience or guidance to keep them safe. Photo courtesy Kimberley SAR.

Kimberley SAR pres. concerned about spring river conditions

COVID pandemic likely to cause influx in backcountry users

With the COVID-19 pandemic persisting and keeping people from travelling outside their region for spring and early summer months, Kimberley Search and Rescue president Peter Reid said he has concerns with how many people are likely to be taking to the backcountry.

“Last year was a clear indication to us that we’re getting a lot of people in the rivers,” Reid said. “Mostly because again, unfortunately for us COVID looks like it’s going to be around until September, which means we’ll see a lot of people out in the backcountry again and some of them may not be that well prepared.”

The big thing to know at this point in time, with respect to rivers, is that the spring freshet is coming. This means the hazard level in rivers is going to exponentially increase and that a seemingly gentle spring could indeed become a raging river.

READ MORE: Kimberley local shares his story of life and death on the St. Mary’s River

Reid said the powerful water can have a tendency to undercut banks as well as the water raises, creating a chance that if you’re standing on the bank of a river, not intending to be in the water, you could fall in if the bank erodes.

“We will certainly discourage people that are not trained or not with a proper provider, so if you think of the raft providers that we have around here in Kimberley, not to venture out in their Canadian Tire raft,” he said. “It’s not designed for the type of water and if they haven’t proper gotten training and equipment they could get themselves into significant trouble.”

One local example is the mouth of the St. Mary’s River. Though it looks benign, it’s actually moving extremely fast and an inexperienced person could quickly get themselves into trouble while trying to float it.

“It’s flat water for a while but there’s lots of hazards along the way and the pressure of the water against somebody, once you get caught behind a rock or a root hole or all those kinds of things that terrify swift water experts, you need to know what you’re doing in there.”

READ MORE: Waiting to call 911 for fear of incurring fee can be ‘catastrophic’: Kimberley SAR

Again, SAR always advises people not to venture into water if they are not trained and don’t know what to do if their feet get taken out from underneath them, or worse, they get trapped. There are so many unseen hazards meaning that even though it may look like no big deal, it is.

Before going out, Reid said it’s wise to file a trip plan and let friends or family know where you’re going, ensuring the people you’ve notified is available and reliable to check in. Always take essentials with you and be prepared for the worst. The BC SAR website and Adventure Smart, both have plenty of great information to help out.

Last year Kimberley SAR got a new high-powered jet boat to aid in river rescue efforts and this year the are looking to see if they can secure a couple of river-specific jet skis. Those wouldn’t arrive until next year as this year they are focusing on fundraising for a new command unit which will give them a better base of operations when out in the field.

They are also training new swift water members to fill openings in the team and to ensure they have enough well-rested members available for response and allowing them to attend to multiple incidents simultaneously.


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