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Check water release schedule before entering the Hooch

April 18, 2014

River fishingThe Chattahoochee River is a popular destination for boaters, tubing enthusiasts and fishermen. Its popularity, however, leads many to underestimate its danger... sometimes with tragic results.

Since 2000, the Johns Creek Fire Department Swift Water Rescue Team has rescued 25 people from the frigid, rushing water of the river. They have also recovered six bodies.

"People may think it's laid-back, but when water is released from the dam upstream, the Chattahoochee can change to whitewater in a heartbeat," said Johns Creek Fire Chief Jeff Hogan. "People need to pay attention and check ahead to see when releases are scheduled. They need to wear floatation devices, and focus on safety."

During a release, the Chattahoochee can rise as much as 11 feet in minutes. The water can be as low as 47 degrees, cold enough to bring on hypothermia and hamper efforts to swim to shore.

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 to see when releases are scheduled. And 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. 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.

For more information, watch the JC Swift Water Rescue Team's Water Safety Video, review the US Army Corps of Engineers safety tips, or download the attached Chattahoochee Water Safety flyer.