With temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees this Labor Day weekend, it is expected many will flock to area waterways.
Rafting companies on the Stanislaus River say Labor Day is one of the busiest weekends for business and this year the flows have finally receded to levels typically seen in late spring and early summer.
Above average snowpack this year resulted in high flows on the Stanislaus River, which typically flows at about 1,000 to 1,500 cubic feet per second in May and June, but this year was above 5,000 cfs, said Shiloh Foust, owner of Sunshine Rafting Adventures.
The flows finally dropped to about 1,500 cfs in July and remained around there until Thursday when they dropped to around 1,000 cfs,
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“This is a fun level for beginners; I rafted it (Thursday) when the river dropped,” said Dave Voortman, owner of River Journey Adventures. “There are lots of great swimming holes and parks to stop for lunch.”
The high flows affected business for both companies earlier this year. Neither began renting rafts until July 1, when the flows dropped below 2,000 cfs.
But in May and June River Journey Adventures did guided tours.
Voortman said it took about 90 minutes to get the eight river miles from Knights Ferry to Orange Blossom Recreation Area. This weekend it will take about three or four hours, he said.
In about a week the flows will drop again to about 400 cfs —still slightly higher than what is typical for this time of year —due to a salmon restoration project upstream.
“It is going to be very mellow, like your 6-year-old could have a (rafting) birthday party on it,” Foust said.
Still he said people need to be cognizant of the inherent dangers of moving water and should always wear a lifejacket.
In addition to life vests experts recommend keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum and only using commercial grade rafts, not flimsy inflatables and pool toys.
“People who just go to the parks and swim, they go to the same spot they did last year at this time when the river was 200 cfs, and this year they will not be able to touch the bottom,” Fourst said.
As the flows decreased the past two months so too did the number of rescues by the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District, said Battalion Chief Eric DeHart.
But the district is ready for a busy weekend and have fully staffed each of the four stations where the district’s boats are housed with firefighters trained in water rescue.