About 30 California cows just got a whole lot happier.
The cattle stranded on a remote island in Merced County on Thursday were able to cross the Merced River on their own.
Last week, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke came to the cows’ rescue and flew in hay bales on the sheriff’s helicopter to keep the cows from starving.
The sheriff was prepared to fly in about three tons of hay again on Thursday. But when he scouted out the island, the cows were gone.
“They decided they wanted off that island,” Warnke said. “We circled around and saw about six to eight cows belly-deep in the water headed to their corral. Those cows are happy again. They wanted out, and they found their way.”
The herd was stranded on an island for months after the Merced River became too swift and too deep to cross. Merced Irrigation District since January kept the water levels high to make room in Lake McClure for this winter’s record snow pack.
On Wednesday, MID reduced the river flow from 3,500 to 2,000 cubic feet per second, said Mike Jensen, a spokesman for MID.
The cows were able to cross the shallower water on their own.
Warnke said he felt it was important to feed the animals and didn’t charge the cattle rancher, but if the rancher offers to reimburse the sheriff’s office for fuel he will accept it.
Since Oct. 1, about 1.7 million acre feet of water has flowed from the Merced River in Yosemite and on through Lake McClure downstream.
Merced Irrigation District is preparing for another 800,000-acre feet to reach the reservoir in the coming months. On Thursday, Lake McClure stored about 716, 216-acre-feet of water, about 109 percent of average, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
Officials with MID also are monitoring a burro trapped on an island at Lake McClure. The burro appears to have an old leg injury or a deformity, but it is mobile. MID is working with wildlife agencies to determine what the best course of action is, Jensen said.
Officials discourage anyone from trying to help the burro in order to avoid harassing it or distressing it.
Residents also are urged to stay away from dangerous waterways and avoid swimming or rafting in the Merced River.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477