Caution urged with high water

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comJuly 16, 2013 

  • How to stay safe From the York County Office of Emergency Management, main areas of concern during heavy rains are: • Failure to recognize the power of water. Water that appears to be slow-moving has a tremendous amount of force. It can easily carry people, vehicles and even buildings away. • Driving through water. A vehicle has four large floatation devices (tires) that make it buoyant. Vehicles are easily moved by a small amount of moving water. • Everything that was close to the shore before the flooding is now a floating obstruction to navigation. Watercraft striking even small objects in the water can cause extensive damage to boats and throw occupants from the watercraft. From Duke Energy: • Dams and spillways can be beautiful to look at, but the water immediately above and immediately beneath them is treacherous. Duke Energy reminds the public to heed warning signs posted near dangerous areas and avoid boating and swimming in these areas. Unusual swirling currents can pull boats and people toward the dam and under the water. • Watch for increased currents, wear life jackets and stay alert to changing weather conditions. • In addition, high water can sweep heavy debris into the lakes and boaters should stay alert for partially submerged objects.

— With each new rain shower comes a renewed call for safety along potentially dangerous high waters.

Last week Duke Energy, which manages the Catawba River basin and its lakes, sent out multiple calls for safety because of high water levels, including Thursday’s request urging boaters on the Catawba-Wateree lakes to slow down and use caution.

Duke Energy has been moving water downstream to create storage space in Lake Norman and Lake Wylie to hold additional rain as a protective measure to minimize more flooding in low-lying areas.

“The high water creates unsafe boating conditions with submerged and floating debris, increases shoreline erosion and impacts shoreline property, such as docks and boathouses,” said John Crutchfield, director of public safety & recreation planning services. “We are asking boaters to exercise extreme caution and slow down until conditions return to normal.”

Lakes have been as much as 2.5 feet above full levels in recent weeks. Lake Wylie hasn’t spilled, but has been well above its target level the past three months and within inches of full pond on multiple occasions.

Friday morning, Mecklenburg County agencies announced there would be a news conference past the Pilot’s press time to discuss area flooding. Residents can check for updates.

According to the National Weather Service, the Charlotte area received 7.31 inches of rain in June. A normal June brings 3.74 inches. June was the fourth above-average rainfall month so far this year. According to, both Charlotte and Lake Wylie already have more July rain than typical. Cmdr. Terri Cook of the York County Emergency Response Team, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, said waters have been “very swift and very dangerous” this year.

“It’s really been unusual this year,” Cook said.

Already this month the 17-member squad responded to an incident where a family needed rescue near Riverwalk in Rock Hill. A nearby access in Fort Mill had to be closed temporarily. Cook suggests anyone on the water – from tubers on the river to boaters on the lake – wear a life jacket at all times.

On the lake, high water isn’t the biggest concern, but rather what the water has floating in it. Cotton Howell, director of the York County Office of Emergency Management, said after severe rains one of the biggest safety threats is debris. Cook saw that first-hand during a recent Saturday training on Big Allison Creek. Logs and other large objects littered large portions of the lake, he said.

Boaters need to be aware, Cook said.

“If they hit one of those, they’re wrecking their boat,” he said. “I would be very careful about debris.”

Brad Hewitt runs TowBoatU.S. on Lake Wylie. He’s seen a slight uptick this year in lift failures and boat drifts. He’s not sure how much of it results from the high water.

“Hopefully, the water goes down soon, because these docks and ramps and so forth, they’re maxed out,” Hewitt said. “The sooner the water goes down, the better.”

Hewitt suggests boaters with lifts tie up the hoses that inflate those lifts to keep them from failing. Boaters also need to be “to be a lot more aware than normal” of the “tons of debris” on the lake, especially in the northern end.

“It’s a very, very strong current right now,” Hewitt said.

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