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Holiday boaters urged to use extra caution with higher river levels

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Illinois River Downtown Peoria

PEORIA (WEEK) -- It's officially the Fourth of July weekend, which means plenty of people across the Heart of Illinois are gearing up to go watch fireworks and also get out on the water.

Red, White, and Boom was canceled this year, but there still are several opportunities to watch fireworks from the water this weekend. Leading the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police to put into place "Operation Dry Water." It's a campaign to try to educate the public on boater safety and the importance of operating boats sober.

"Our goal is to make sure everyone goes out and has fun, but also comes home safely," said Sergeant Scott Avery of the Illinois Conservation Police. "This is usually a huge boating weekend opportunity. Accidents can happen so fast, it's fun, it's recreational, but on the same hand it can be very dangerous, you can't be safe enough."

This June was one of the top five wettest June's on record in Peoria. The city saw 9.25 inches of rain, which leaves the Illinois River brimming with water and debris.

"With the higher water levels, you get a lot more flow and a lot of debris that's floating out there, especially submerged items that you cannot see that are just under the water levels. So that kind of intensifies or makes recreating a lot more dangerous," explained Avery.

With the river expected to crest at 20.1 feet on Sunday. Avery says that's eight to nine feet high than average, placing a greater importance on having a plan in place before hitting the water.

"When you're out there on the water, it's just like driving a car, you need to have a plan b. Meaning, what happens when this boat motor goes down, or what happens if I strike a submerged tree stump, or you name it, and it punctures a hole in your boat, what's going to be your plan b? So you need to have some mental forethought and pre-planning of what you're going to do if you break down on the water," continued Avery.

The conservation police say barge traffic won't be stopping this weekend, adding more things to be aware of when on the river. Along with the conservation police, there will be several other agencies with watercraft in service to make sure things go as smooth as possible.

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Holden Krusemark

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