​The Boulder Creek during calmer times, when water levels were lower than they are this June. Credit: John Herrick​
The Boulder Creek during calmer times, when water levels were lower than they are this June. Credit: John Herrick

This has been a heartbreaking week on Boulder Creek. After the drowning death of a child who fell into the water while tubing on June 11, emergency responders returned for the rescue of a woman on Thursday who one witness saw tumbling down the creek unconscious.

According to Boulder Fire-Rescue, the unidentified adult woman was pulled from the creek after crews searched downstream and finally located her at around Canyon Boulevard and 6th Street, according to reports. Bystanders were able to help pull her out of the water and she was given CPR before getting rushed to the hospital. As of Thursday evening, she was in critical condition, according to Boulder Fire-Rescue.

Water levels in the Boulder area and throughout the state are above average due to substantial winter snowfall that is melting combined with spring rainstorms.

During a storm on June 12 that led to significant flooding, water levels rose so fast two people had to be rescued from an island on Boulder Creek that formed around them as the water rushed in. 

The heavy rain and water rescues over the last week raise questions over whether the creek should be closed to tubing. Outside of special circumstances, the water needs to be flowing at a rate of 700 cubic feet per second (CFS) to initiate a ban. The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office announced a ban last week for the North and St. Vrain Creeks and River.

On Sunday, June 11, when the tragic death of the 9-year-old happened, Boulder Creek’s water levels were high for what is recommended for tubing, but still relatively low for enacting a tubing ban, at around 400 CFS. 

During the incident Thursday, the water levels again were high for tubing, but slightly lower, at around 350 CFS.

The day before, on Wednesday, Boulder Reporting Lab reached out to the sheriff’s office after noticing that nighttime flows on the creek had exceeded the 700 CFS threshold.

Randy Wilber, a commander with the sheriff’s office, said they were aware the threshold was crossed. 

“We did see a very short-lived spike in the flow the other night where we were close to 800 CFS, but the flow dropped back down to around 500 CFS,” he said, adding that it lasted 20-25 minutes.

According to Wilber, there is a provision for enacting a tubing ban below the 700 CFS threshold  if the City of Boulder, sheriff’s office and fire department are all in agreement. 

“The spike was so short-lived, and was at night, that it did not make sense to enact a closure. If the flows had stayed up around the 700 CFS, we would have started that process,” Wilber said. 

Jenna Sampson is a freelance journalist in Boulder, Colorado. When not dabbling in boat building or rock climbing you can find her nursing an iced coffee in front of a good book. Email: jsampson@fastmail.com.

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