The Chattahoochee River, long a big draw for swimmers and anglers, has seen a renewed popularity this year. Hot weather combined with the end of a two-year drought has brought more people to its shores.
On most days the river is a serene, tranquil spot that's an inviting place for tubing, kayaking, fishing and swimming. A fairly new tubing company, $10 River Tubing, located near the river on Abbotts Bridge Road (Hwy 120), rents tubes and kayaks and provides drop off and pick up transportation for its customers. Weekends brings lines of people waiting to grab a tube and enjoy a lazy ride down the Chattahoochee.
But a recent uptick in river rescues and drownings has brought to the forefront just how dangerous the Chattahoochee River can become. The release of water upstream at Buford Dam can turn the river into a death trap, said Capt. Tommy Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett Fire and Rescue Services.
"The river is serene and beautiful, but can change at a moment's notice," said Rutledge. Even downstream some 20 miles below the dam, the rush of the water will knock fishermen off their feet sweeping them down the river where they can become trapped in submerged trees and drown, he said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides a telephone number to call to get the water release schedules. When water is released at the dam, it takes six and 1/2 hours to travel to the Jones Bridge Park.
Rutledge points out that it's important to have the release time information before planning a trip to the river. "Seeking refuge on a rock is only temporary," said Rutledge. "The water current is strong enough to push a car off a roadway."
According to the Corps,when water is released from Buford Dam the river "can rise up to 11 feet within a matter of minutes with a force of over 8,000 cubic feet of water per second."
That's not enough time to react, says Rutledge. "If you are caught on the river's rising water, get off the river as quickly as possible. It's just not smart to be on the river when the water is released," he said.
The US Army Corps of Engineers offers these safety tips:
Call: 770-945-1466 for water release schedules
- For anyone using the river between Buford Dam and the Ga. Hwy 20 Bridge, life jackets are mandatory for all persons wading, boating or tubing in this 3-mile stretch of the river.
- Immediately exit the river when the warning horns sound. This indicates water is being released at the dam.
- Pay attention to warning signs posted along the riverbanks.
- Be aware of the effects of hypothermia. Water released at the dam average 44 to 58 degrees year-round. In just 30 to 60 minutes exhaustion or unconsciousness can occur.
Water released at Buford Dam takes:
1 1/2 hours to reach Settles Bridge, a popular fishing spot in Suwanee
4 1/2 hours to reach Abbotts Bridge (Hwy.120) in Duluth
6 hours to reach Medlock Bridge (Hwy. 141) in Peachtree Corners
6 1/2 hours to reach Jones Bridge Park in Peachtree Corners
8 hours to reach Holcomb Bridge Park in Peachtree Corners
For more information or questions about river safety call the Corps of Engineers at 770-945-9631 or visit http://lanier.sam.usace.army.mil/