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Why, after Labor Day, there’s no bodily contact allowed at Woodward Reservoir

Labor Day will be the last splash for swimmers at Woodward Reservoir Regional Park this summer — and fall, winter and part of spring.

The water at the Stanislaus County park will be closed to bodily contact starting Tuesday, as mandated by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District permit. That means no swimming, no wading, no water skiing, no dogs in the water.

Boats launched from the ramp are OK, but “if you have to touch the water to get in your vessel, that’s not allowed,” said Cheryl Jackson, manager of the park. “So no jet skis, kayaks, no pulling a tube behind a boat.”

Staff will enforce the ban, and there are signs posted for visitors.

The bodily contact ban occurs annually in late summer or early fall and usually is lifted in early to mid-April. At issue is not the safety of the water to recreational users. It’s about complying with state regulations to preserve drinking-water quality, Jackson said.

Woodward has two intakes — one by the inlet, the other by the dam, she said. “This time of year, they (SSJID) pull from the inlet for their drinking water facility, so they give us 30 days’ notice. Whatever body of water they’re pulling from has to have no bodily contact for 30 days.”

In some years, the swimming cutoff has been at late as October. But from this year forward, Stanislaus County Parks has been told it will be the Tuesday after Labor Day, Jackson said Sunday.

In February 2014, drought led SSJID to announce it was keeping the reservoir level low to reduce evaporation and seepage. It said Woodward likely would be closed all that summer to swimming and other bodily contact to protect the water quality for domestic users in Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy.

But when March-April storms that year brought much-neede precipitation, Stanislaus County and SSJID officials struck a deal for nine weeks of water recreation, May 1 to July 7.

In June that year, some people who recently swam in the reservoir said they came down with severe intestinal illness and claimed they were not properly warned about high bacteria content in the water.

The county did water tests and found bacteria levels down from the busy Memorial Day 2014 weekend, but reminded the public, “Lakes, rivers and canals are not self-contained, filtered and chemically treated like a swimming pool. The benefit in swimming in natural bodies of water is being out in the beauty of nature; but, you are also swimming in what nature puts into the water from human and animal sources.”

This year, in response to complaints about the ban when September often remains hot in the Valley, Woodward Reservoir commented on its Facebook page, “Modesto Reservoir is open year round for water recreation and has different restrictions on their permits, for example, no pets (exception for service animals) are allowed at Modesto Reservoir.”

To learn more about Woodward and Modesto reservoirs, go to