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How will moving back to Stage 3 affect the Boise River float season?

"In any other year, if we weren’t dealing with COVID, everything would be looking really rosy."

BOISE, Idaho — The announcement that Ada County will move back to Stage 3 of reopening in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases through many residents' plans into limbo. 

The order closed bars and large venues and limited social gatherings to no more than 50 people. 

The Boise River float season is among the activities that officials are now scrambling to figure out a way to hold safely amid the new restrictions.

The season typically gets its official start by the Fourth of July each summer, which would have placed it after the end of Stage 4 restrictions. But with the rollback in Ada County, officials say they're not sure they can stick to the normal schedule.

RELATED: Ada County rolled back to Stage 3, all bars will be forced to close

Nonetheless, Ada County Parks and Waterways and Boise Fire are still preparing for float season - and waiting for word of when it can start.

"All the variables that we are normally evaluating - river flow, air temperature, our coordination with the contractor for equipment rental and shuttle operations, debris removal in the river — all those things are working out well this year," said Scott Koberg, the director of Ada County Parks and Waterways. "The one variable that isn’t lining up for us is COVID-19. We’re just not sure how we’re going to proceed quite yet with the official part of the float season."

Koberg said his department is in communication with Central District Health on how to kick off the float season safely, but added that much of the decision may come down to how well Ada County residents are following recommendations.

"We have submitted a lot of additional protocols for review. We need Central District Health’s review and approval and we definitely want the board of county commissioners to feel confident with what we’re doing," he said. "A lot of it depends on the public’s ability to kind of respond to those protocols and react accordingly, and that may include wearing facemasks, it definitely includes maintaining six feet of social distancing when possible."

RELATED: Ada County preparing for 2020 float season, with some changes

Of course, the river itself is never technically closed: Those with the equipment and skill to float it now can "have at it," said Koberg. The shuttles are not yet running between Barber Park and Ann Morrison, rentals are closed, and the air pumps at the launch spot have not yet been turned on, however, so floaters would have to bring a pump and figure out the logistics on their own.

Boise Fire has already started cleaning debris and tree snags out of the river, he added, although there were not as many hazards to remove this year. The river is currently flowing at about 600 cubic feet per second and will likely hit a maximum of 900 cfs this summer - what officials call the "sweet spot" for safe floating.

"In any other year, if we weren’t dealing with COVID, everything would be looking really rosy," Koberg said. 

Boise Fire does charge for any water rescue they have to perform outside the official float season. Koberg urged people to know their abilities and bring safety equipment if they plan to get out on the water before Ada County Parks and Waterways has been cleared to officially start the float season.

"It’s float at your own risk. You need to know what you’re getting into. Know your party’s skills and abilities, have the proper safety equipment, life jackets for anyone 14 and under," he said. "Right now, just like everything else, it’s a time of uncertainty and we’re not exactly sure if we’ll be able to make an announcement about the official float season anytime soon."

RELATED: How this spike in Idaho's COVID-19 cases is different from the last major rise in infections

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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