Patrolling the Chattahoochee with Georgia's DNR

Gwinnett County Fire recently responded to a river rescue on the Chattahoochee River. A couple's canoe flipped, after the water started rising. The couple, along with their dog, was able to get out of the water safely, but things could have turned out much worse. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources said it's an example of how quickly conditions can change on the river.

FOX 5 News went along for a ride, patrolling the Chattahoochee and doing safety checks with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

"My name is Ranger Mark Puig, I'm a state game warden with Georgia DNR," he introduces himself to a fisherman.

John Rumple is out to fly fishing, but he's prepared, with all the right licenses and lifejackets. "I don't want to be the one responsible for hurting someone else on the river," John said.

John appreciates the enforcement. "It plays an important role to keep people on the river so that it's useable for all of us, it's a great natural resource that we have right here," he added.

"Alright man, we appreciate it. Be safe. Your safety is important to us," Ranger Mark Puig sent John on his way with a green light. Ranger Puig said one of the most important things to remember on the river is that you always have to be on your toes.

"The river is constantly changing. You have rocks all over the place, even these sandy bottoms change, you have trees that fall in or float down. I mean it's just different every time you come out here," he explained.

One hazard includes the fallen trees that line the riverbank. "People can get caught on them and can't free themselves and unfortunately some of them have drowned," Ranger Puig said.

Water levels can also change quickly when water is released throughout the day. "Upstream here you have Buford Dam. The water is released from there periodically and it comes from the bottom of Lake Lanier and it stays cold all year round," he stated. That cold water can come as a shock, even in the summer, leading to hypothermia and drowning.

"Your heart rate slows 10 to 25 percent, you might begin to hyperventilate, gasp for air and you might take in some water then," described Ranger Puig. Your body can start shutting down. It's another reason why having a lifejacket on you, or nearby is so important.

"At the end of the day, what I want to be able to do is go home to my family and not go to someone else's family and do a death notification, because they drowned because they could have survived if they had a lifejacket near them or wearing one," he said.

Ranger Pug said you must have a life jacket with you anytime you're out on the Chattahoochee, but there are only a few hazardous sections of the river where anyone over 12 has to be wearing it at all times. Those are focused from Buford Dam to Georgia Highway 20 and then around Sandy Springs. He wants to also remind you there's a big section of the river where you can only fish with artificial lure like wood, plastic, or metal instead of live bait.

DNR suggests having a float plan in place and let someone know where you'll be getting in and out of the water. Also, before you get out on the river, you can also call the Buford Dam office for the water release schedule so you're more prepared for what time those water levels will change. Call 770-945-1466, or toll free at 1-855-DAM-FLOW (1-855-326-3569), for the Buford Dam water release schedule.

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