High water levels stifle boaters in Kentucky

The unusually high water makes for unsafe conditions for boating, canoeing, kayaking and swimming on the state’s lakes and rivers.

The middle of July usually means less lawn mowing because of the parched, brown condition of most yards in Kentucky and streams normally run low and clear in midsummer and concern about drought clouds people’s minds.

This week, Buckhorn Lake in eastern Kentucky’s Leslie and Perry counties rose 13-1/2 feet above normal summer pool and central Kentucky’s Taylorsville Lake swelled to 18-1/2 feet above it. The Kentucky River is also high.

The unusually high water makes for unsafe conditions for boating, canoeing, kayaking and swimming on the state’s lakes and rivers, according to the Richmond Register.

The wacky weather this year, beginning with record cold and snow and now with unseasonable torrential rains in July, corresponds with 13 boating fatalities and 25 accidental drownings in public waters so far this year. Kentucky suffered 10 boating fatalities and 11 people drowned in public waters all of last year.

“I drove across the dam at Taylorsville, and there are floating treetops and debris everywhere,” Maj. Shane Carrier, assistant director of law enforcement for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, told the paper. “High water causes lots of floating debris, which is extremely dangerous. Running at high speed or at night is extremely difficult right now from the debris.”

Carrier and Zac Campbell, boating safety coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, recommend reducing daytime speeds during the high-water period.

“I would also recommend only running at idle speed at night,” Carrier said.

Pontoon boats seem to the eye to be among the safest and easiest boats to operate, but they are problematic. Current makes pontoons hard to maneuver, and their canopy and tall sides catch the wind. They are often underpowered, especially with several people aboard.

Carrier said inexperienced boaters commonly use pontoons. “When I used to work Taylorsville Lake, it was common to see pontoon boats overloaded,” he explained. “People would rent them and load them up.”

Streams swollen from rainfall are also dangerous. “The water right now in our streams is fun for highly experienced whitewater runners,” Campbell said. “I have a lot of experience in a kayak, but I wouldn’t get on most streams and rivers in Kentucky right now.”

Campbell recommends that paddlers wear a life jacket at all times, regardless of the water level. He said life jackets can save the lives of paddlers who upset in roaring water.