Flows in the lower Stanislaus River increased Thursday, prompting warnings to swimmers and other visitors to take care.
The river will be at about 3,000 cubic feet per second through May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates New Melones Reservoir.
The releases are due in part to a water sale by the Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts to several West Side districts that will draw the supply from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The higher flows also aim to help young salmon get out to sea.
The volume is nowhere near the massive amounts on Northern California rivers last year, but it can catch a swimmer or kayaker by surprise. And most of the water is snowmelt, so it is cold and can incapacitate someone who goes under.
The Tuolumne River below La Grange was running higher until Thursday at the request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which coordinates reservoir releases around the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada. The channel is now at about 1,500 cfs, still enough to cause trouble.
"As always, we recommend using extreme caution near any river as the water is cold, fast-moving and can contain debris," said Brandon McMillan, spokesman for the Turlock Irrigation District. It shares Don Pedro Reservoir with the Modesto Irrigation District.
These tips came from Capt. Tim Johnson of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District:
- Always wear a life jacket. The currents are strong and the temperatures are extremely cold. It can quickly overcome even the most experienced swimmers.
- If you are an inexperienced rafter or kayaker, stay off the river when the flows are high.
- Never go alone, and always let someone know where you will be launching from and taking out. Give them an ETA. When you arrive at your takeout point, let them know.
- Do not get on the river with cheap inflatable rafts and inner tubes. There are a lot of snags, and the thin plastic of the rafts and inner tubes are no match for the snags, debris and other objects in the water.
- Bring a cell phone in a water-tight bag or case, so if you need help, you can call for it.
Stanislaus River visitors can rent proper gear from rafting companies based in Knights Ferry. Other companies offer trips on the much-faster whitewater stretches of Sierra rivers.