MERCED — The Merced County Board of Supervisors approved a three-year extension to a contract that provides law enforcement services to Lake Yosemite.
The agreement between the Merced County Sheriff's Department and the county's Public Works department was extended until June 30, 2016, and is budgeted at $25,000 per year, according to county documents.
The contract provides two deputies to patrol the Lake Yosemite area on weekends, according to Merced County Sheriff's spokesman deputy Delray Shelton. No deputies are on site during the week, but the department responds to service calls, he said.
"It's a wise choice to have the deputies out there, and it's a must," Shelton said. "We want the lake to be a family-friendly atmosphere, and the deputies out there are able to enforce that."
Dana Hertfelder, the Merced County public works director, said the decision helps ensure the safety of the large crowds drawn to the lake, especially during the summer.
"We're really happy to have the sheriff's support at the lake," Hertfelder said. "There's a lot of people that use the lake during the summer, and their presence helps ensure that park visitors have as positive an experience as possible."
Earlier this month, two Fresno men identified as Curtis Davis, 44, and Jermaine Johnson, 23, drowned after jumping from a pier near the main beach of the lake, according to the Sheriff's Department.
Shelton said the deputies patrolling the area receive special water safety training, and spend a large chunk of their time enforcing the rules.
"I can't tell you how many people the deputies come across that are not obeying the water laws," Shelton said. "So when there are no deputies, there's more of a potential for an accident to transpire."
Shelton said the department also adds more deputies during special events and holidays.
It's unclear if the drownings on July 4 could have been prevented, but Shelton said a law enforcement presence decreases these type of accidents.
"That is an unfortunate situation and our hearts go out to their families and friends," Shelton said. "With the deputies there, we do our best to keep a watchful eye to lessen those problems."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@merced sunstar.com.