The Bitterroot River might have reached its highest level of the weekend. The USGS river gauge at Bell Crossing near Victor was at 10.85 feet Saturday, with flood stage at 11 feet. By Monday, the river level had dropped about a foot.

However, the river - and all rivers and streams in the area - is still running bankful, fast and muddy. The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks advice is to be cautious and well prepared if you're venturing out onto the Bitterroot River. Just last week, a raft capsized in the West Fork and Ravalli County Search and Rescue helped get the rafters out of trouble.

Some tips from FWP: wear a personal flotation device or life jacket on the water and even if you're on the banks of the river - very important for kids. The water is very cold and your strength is sapped almost immediately. Hypothermia happens quickly. The water is also muddy, which hides debris that always floats down this time of year. And where the river takes a bend, look out for log jams. Bridge abutments are debris collection areas that can become dangerous. Don't float alone, tell someone where you're planning to launch the boat and when and where you're expecting to take out.

A real simple tip - if the water is high and rough enough that you wouldn't swim in it, don't launch your boat. Speaking of swimming - as the water level drops and the temperatures rise, the river beckons swimmers. FWP reminds you that there is an average of 20 unintentional drownings every year. Maureen Ward of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services warned parents of young kids that 50 percent of drownings happen in rivers and lakes.

Ward said in a news release, "Every day in the U.S., two children younger than 14 years old die from drowning. Drownings are a leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 4." Parents need to avoid distractions like cell phones or alcohol and keep the kids in your line of sight. Learn CPR. You might need to help someone.

And, a last tip, don't drink the water. Last year, over a hundred cases of giardia and other water-borne infections were reported in Montana. Over half of those cases were from people who were swimming in natural waters or drank untreated water while camping. Following common sense tips will make sure you have fun in the water.

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