Abundant snowfall during winter and spring storms have contributed to elevated water levels throughout the Boulder area and the state. Credit: John Herrick

This story was updated on June 21 with the name of the woman who died.

The rescue of a woman from Boulder Creek last Thursday, June 15, has ended in another tragic death as her critical condition deteriorated over the weekend and she succumbed to her injuries. The woman, 48, apparently went in the water to help a family member and got swept away by the current.

Bystanders spotted her first and pulled her to safety, performing CPR on the south side of the creek, according to the city. Multiple calls, meanwhile, were made to Boulder Fire-Rescue and the Boulder Police Department. Firefighters swam her across to the north bank, where she was rushed to the hospital. 

The woman was later identified as Bibiana Mendiola Bocanegra by the Boulder County Coroner’s Office.

One witness, Andie Otto Holloway, wrote on Boulder Reporting Lab’s Facebook page about the experience.

“My 11 year old and I were the first ones to come across the family and see mom go downstream. We scrambled to help and started screaming for more support (I am not a good swimmer). 2 others had been caught up in the currents, too, but pulled out in time. It was such a gutwrenching experience. We sat with the family and helped entertain the children while the adults went to meet emergency personnel.”

Some commenters on social media and across the community are asking why the creek isn’t being closed given five city water rescues and two creek deaths in just two weeks. On June 11, a nine-year-old fell off his tube in Boulder Creek and tragically drowned.

The creek remains open because water levels have remained mostly far below the threshold of 700 cubic feet per second (CFS) for a closure, though they have been above the historical average. Abundant snowfall during winter and spring storms have contributed to elevated water levels throughout the Boulder area and the state.

Boulder Parks and Rec posted flyers over the weekend attempting to educate recreational water users about tubing safety, including a QR code to check the water levels, but they don’t specify at what point people might want to think twice about getting in the water. The flyers also urge people to wear a life vest and a helmet. 

In an email regarding questions about water levels on the creek and when to close it to tubing, Randy Wilber, special operations commander with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office said: “Our current policy states that once we observe the flow of Boulder Creek has reached 700cfs (cubic feet per second) is when we start the conversations and the process. The 700cfs number is one that has been agreed upon by the City of Boulder, Boulder County including the various fire, emergency medical and rescue groups.”

While that threshold hasn’t been met, aside from a roughly 20-minute blip late one night last week, tubing is considered risky when levels reach 300 CFS. Risky tubing conditions could also be an indication that swimming and other types of recreation are potentially dangerous too, depending on the sport and people’s experience levels. 

The website of Visit Boulder, the official destination marketing organization contracted by the city, offers recommendations for tubing, saying “the ideal level for tubing the creek is 40–200cfs.”

“Between 200 and 300 cfs,” it adds, “you’re in for a wild ride.” It says it does not recommend tubing at all once the water reaches 300 cfs. During the recent deadly incidents, water levels were relatively high, at around 350-400 CFS.

“There is always a risk with tubing regardless of the water flow,” Wilber said. “But at around 700 cfs is when the water starts moving fast enough that single chambered flotation devices are not recommended and only those using kayaks and white-water canoes with some experience should really be in the water.” 

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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  1. Water levels on Boulder Creek are only indirectly related to spring runoff and the high snows/rate of melt. The cfs is determined by the amount of water released from Barker reservoir in Nederland. Just an important, and complicated, part of the equation in terms of thinking about water management. This sentence suggests otherwise and is therefore a bit misleading: “Abundant snowfall during winter and spring storms have resulted in elevated water levels throughout the Boulder area and the state.”

    1. Thank you. An editing error introduced that confusion. It’s been updated for clarity. — BRL editors

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