High Water Level Making River Dangerous

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Recent heavy rain has pushed the Grand River to a level three times higher than normal. That has the Eaton County Sheriff's Office responding to several near-drowning incidents in the last week.

Couple the high water level with a current flowing at 7 miles an hour, and people have less time to react to hazards on the water.

Those conditions pushed a child in a kayak over the edge of one of the biggest dangers, a low-head dam in Eaton Rapid.

Retired Eaton Rapids Police Chief Paul Malewski, who now works as a kayaking instructor saw it all happen and rushed in to the water to help.

"He was bouncing off the face of the dam, theres no way to get out of those," Malewski said.

Both made it out safely, but it could have been much worse. Low-head dams are commonly referred to as "drowning machines." When a boat goes over the edge of one, the hydraulics of the water below pulls the boat back against the dam, with the pressure holding it under water.

While Malewski, who now works at Highland River Adventures in Eaton Rapids, says the best rescue is using a line to pull a person out, there was nothing nearby so he had to jump into the water.

"You have to do what you have to do and I wasn't going to let the little boy drown," Malewski said.

Because the force of the water is so strong the only way out of a low-head dam is to swim parallel to the dam, but as Malewski knows that isn't easy.

The river conditions has the Eaton County Sheriff's Office urging people to be careful on the water, and it's not just dams they have to steer clear of.

"With the water being being deeper there's hidden obstructions with rocks and trees down and those change as the river flows the current moves them," said Deputy , who works in the Marine Division.

Deputies are also asking everyone on the water to wear flotation devices, and set a flow plan to let people now where you're going to be.

"Where you're going to put in at, where you're going to put out at, in a timeline so if something happens we know where to start and finish if we're looking for you and you do need help," said.

Steps that can help you avoid a problem before it's too late.

"You have to respect the water because the water is a dangerous place," Malewski said.