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Water Safety Along the Little Miami (and Surrounding Rivers) – Part One

Charlie Foxtrot Sierra

When is it safe to paddle? It’s not that simple.

Most of us are used to seeing the river gauges or hearing on the news that the river is cresting at X feet. What you rarely ever hear, and what all professional liveries go by, is the river’s CFS measurement. CFS stands for Cubic Feet per Second. You can think of CFS as the velocity of the river flow. For anyone who has ever been out on a kayak or canoe trip with the assumption that you will have two solid hours of fun, only to end up at your take-out point 40 minutes later, you have CFS to thank for that.

On the Little Miami and many of our other local rivers, a CFS of 1,700 or higher is a red flag. 1,700 CFS means the water is moving at 1,700 cubic feet per second. I know what you’re thinking; that last sentence may well have been in Greek for all the sense it makes. So let’s break this down into manageable terms, something we can all relate to: garden hoses. “A typical garden hose provides about 3 gallons per minute…one cfs is equivalent to 150 garden hoses being sprayed at the same time.” 150 garden hoses spraying full blast multiplied by 1,700 is…255,000 garden hoses. Understand now why our local river guides close above that?

Well Dam, Sam

“Okay, so 255,000 garden hoses at once is a lot of force, but I just saw the river gauge read in well below that, and I called to find out if we can go out this evening after dinner, but they still told me no. What’s up?”

On top of CFS, let’s bring in another factor we must acknowledge, the release of dams in the area. I spoke with a representative for the USACE at Caesars Creek regarding the protocol for damn release, and this is what he had to say: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers control the waters of both East Fork and Caesar’s Creek dams; using the “Guide Curve,” USACE determines water release from their lakes via dams based on several constantly changing factors (how high the lake is, stream gauges from Spring Valley in the north and Milford in the south, how much rain is in the forecast, what the temperature of the river is, etc.) Readings go to NOAA and USGS to issue various announcements, many are familiar with the flood advisories in our area. When the water level is becoming dangerous to the surrounding environment and/or the area is expecting a large quantity of rain that will endanger the surrounding environment, they release into the Little Miami to counteract what will inevitably be a large surplus of groundwater into the lakes. Caesar Creek is usually sitting around 2,830 acres of water, but in a potential flood threat, it can hold up to 6,110 acres of water.

Depending on the location, it will take anywhere from four to eleven hours to raise the river levels/increase the CFS. If, for instance, you are leaving out of the Morgan’s livery area (Northern Cincinnati) and the USACE releases Caesar Creek, it will take four hours to reach you, then up to another four to seven hours to reach the lower liveries. East Fork is further south, and it will be effect the liveries nearby in a similar time frame. As such, it will depend on the livery or put-in point, time frame and forecast to determine whether you should hit the water or not.

Part two: we discuss various safety protocol on the river, click here