A day after two people were ticketed for driving onto a Council Bluffs levee to launch a canoe in the flood-swollen Missouri River, authorities had one word of advice for anyone thinking of doing the same.
Both the levees and the river are off-limits for good reasons, officials said Friday.
"Quite frankly, it simply is not safe. Especially in a canoe," said Don Gross, Council Bluffs public information officer.
"There's no training for how to safely navigate very unpredictable water. When a river is out of its banks, don't go," added Nate Hoogeveen, director of river programs for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Police said a couple from Papillion was ticketed Thursday evening after they drove onto the 10-foot-wide levee near the 4100 block of Veterans Memorial Highway.
Officers found that the man and woman, both 26, had driven onto the levee and launched the canoe. They were cited for criminal trespass and released.
Calls seeking comment from the couple were not returned Friday.
For nearly two months, since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began releasing record amounts of water from upstream dams, a large part of the Missouri River has been closed to recreational boating. The public also has been told to stay off of levees that are holding back floodwaters.
The river's closure between Yankton, S.D., and St. Louis, Mo., is for both levee protection and personal safety, said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Ancil Brown.
Navigating a flooded river is extremely confusing, even for experienced boaters, especially when familiar landmarks now are submerged or gone, Hoogeveen said.
Floating or submerged debris — such as trees and logs — can catch boaters off guard, damage their craft and capsize their vessels.
Illegal use of the river can cause injury and even fatality, said Herb Angell, boating law administrator with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Because of the flooding, the river's channel is deeper and its current is even more unpredictable, he said.
"You can tip over in a canoe in a swimming pool. All they need to do is get hit by a half-submerged tree or debris. They could easily be gone forever," he said.
Public traffic on a levee also poses numerous dangers — both for the integrity of the levee and the safety of people being protected by it.
Driving on a levee should be limited to official inspection teams because excess traffic can cause the levee to compress and lose some elevation, said John LaRandeau, a civil engineer with the with the Corps of Engineers in Omaha.
"There are . all these emergency actions that are needing to take place, and being out there is perhaps interfering with some officials who need to do their jobs," Hoogeveen said. "It's just not a great idea."
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