'Super Clean' Rivers Offer Near-Perfect Regatta Conditions

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
7 August 2016
By Natasha Lindstrom

Dan Felack of the Lower Kiski Water Rescue Division chuckled as he divulged the jovial moniker given to his team the past few times they worked Pittsburgh's regatta.
“They called us the ‘Angry Beavers,' because all we were doing was just hauling wood out (of the rivers) so that the boats wouldn't hit logs and sticks and other debris coming down,” Felack said Sunday afternoon from his post on the North Shore. “We pulled barrels and parts of telephone poles out.”

In 2014, Felack's eight-person river rescue crew removed 75 to 100 pieces of wood and junk from portions of the Allegheny and Ohio rivers used for the event's powerboat races, Anything that Floats makeshift watercraft contest and Jet Ski stunt shows.

This year, his five-person crew removed just two or three logs.

“The water's clear, and everything has gone off without a hitch,” said Felack as he gestured toward Jet Skiers doing backflips. “Those guys have some serious skills.”

The 39th annual EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta featured prime conditions for water sports as well as spectating, with tens of thousands turning out for the final day of water activities as well as land-locked fun that included Frisbee-catching dogs, Pogo stick tricks, BMX riding, live music, food trucks, a massive sand sculpture, a nine-story Ferris wheel and fireworks show produced by New Castle-based Pyrotecnico.

Organizers with Peony Entertainment expected as many as 500,000 people to attend Friday through Sunday. They declined to provide attendance estimates as of late Sunday, with plans to disclose final numbers Monday morning, spokeswoman Rachel Rennebeck said.

River Rescue personnel cited nearly “perfect” conditions for a regatta, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said. She said there were no arrests or notable incidents involving public safety response. Nobody was reported seriously hurt.

“They had a couple boats flip during the races,” Felack said. “I don't want to say it's expected — but, it happens.”

From 2004 to 2014, the regatta overlapped with the city's Fourth of July activities at Point State Park.

Organizers began last year discussing pushing the dates back to early August, citing reasons including river conditions as well as having enough support to reintroduce the regatta as a stand-alone festival.

June tends to be one of Pittsburgh's wettest months, averaging 4.3 inches of rain compared to 3.84 in July and 3.48 in August, said Brad Rehak, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon. Last year — the first time the regatta canceled its boat races in 38 years amid a dangerously fast river current — 7.34 inches of rain fell in Pittsburgh in June, about 3 inches more than normal.

River water can remain higher than usual and clogged with debris for weeks after a big rainfall, which could explain some of the prior trouble with debris around the Fourth of July — though early August can bring rainfall, too.

“It's ever-so-slightly drier this time of year, but not by much,” Rehak said. “It only takes one bad thunderstorm to kind of spoil the weekend.”

Sunday's temperatures hovered in the mid-80s with light winds of 5 to 10 mph.

“The water's actually phenomenal right now — it's like 70-some degrees, and it's super clean,” Jet Ski stunt man Gabriel Nowak, 33, of Elizabeth, said during a quick break from jetpacking 15 feet above the water against a backdrop of the downtown skyline. “Being out there is definitely fun, nonstop. It's like an adrenaline rush, constantly.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.