Modesto area rivers inviting, but dangerous

jholland@modbee.comApril 21, 2013 

JH River Flows 1

JOHN HOLLAND/ The Stanislaus River is flowing higher than expected this spring because of water released to help young salmon get out to sea and to supplement drought-stressed water districts on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley. The river is pictured Thursday, (04-18-13) just downstream of the McHenry Avenue bridge north of Modesto, Calif.

JOHN HOLLAND — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John

The weather warmed into the 80s over the weekend, tempting people to wade into rivers that are rising with the snowmelt.

Despite a drought that has generally reduced flows, visitors need to take care in and near the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers.

The Stanislaus is a special case. It will be higher than expected into mid-May because it is delivering water that the Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts sold to West Side districts that are short.

The river, as measured at the Orange Blossom Bridge east of Oakdale, doubled to about 1,500 cubic feet per second last week. It will double again this week and stay at about 3,000 cfs through May 10, OID General Manager Steve Knell said Sunday.

The flows might be reduced on weekends to allow safe rafting in that stretch, he said. The federal government controls the rate.

A flow of 3,000 cfs indeed would be unsafe, said Shiloh Foust, general manager of Sunshine Rafting in Knights Ferry.

People planning to go boating should get an idea of the conditions beforehand. And visitors should take care on any waterway, even if they are just fishing from the shore or hopping across streambed rocks.

"Wear a life jacket anytime you're near water," Foust said.

Below-average runoff

The mostly dry winter means below-average runoff from Sierra Nevada watersheds, but it can still be dangerous. And cold.

The OID and SSJID each are selling 40,000 acre-feet this year to the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, made up of numerous irrigation districts from the Tracy area to Fresno County, as well as the California Department of Water Resources.

Oakdale and South San Joaquin can do this because of strong water rights and conservation efforts. The water, priced at $100 per acre-foot, is 13 percent of their entitlement from the Stanislaus.

The water runs to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where state and federal pumps send an equal amount to the West Side districts. This will help them deal with sharp cutbacks resulting from the drought and fish protections.

Delivering the water in the Stanislaus will boost the salmon-migration flows that already were planned there, as well as on the Tuolumne and Merced rivers.

Early Sunday afternoon, the Tuolumne ran at 778 cfs at La Grange, according to the state water agency. It likely will run at a much lower rate in summer.

For tips on water safety, click here.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or (209) 578-2385.

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