What the hot days ahead mean for rivers and reservoirs in Stanislaus County

After a seesawing of temperatures in recent days, from the low 70s to upper 80s, the Modesto area is expected to have its first daily highs in the 90s this week.

Wednesday should reach near 93 degrees, the National Weather Service reports, and Thursday near 92. The rest of the week will gradually cool, according to the forecast, with highs near 88 Friday, 87 Saturday and 82 Sunday.

Winter storms built a healthy snowpack, and warming temperatures have been melting it, “but not in a manner we can’t accommodate,” Calvin Curtin, emergency preparedness coordinator for the Turlock Irrigation District, said Tuesday.

He gets a report on Don Pedro Reservoir, he said, and inflow and releases have been holding fairly steady, keeping the water level at about 796 feet above sea level. That’s below the flood-control line of 801.9 feet and well below the full reservoir level of 830 feet, Curtin said.

More than 400,000 acre-feet of storage space remains, he said, so TID doesn’t anticipate having to increase releases that would create risk for flooding.

It is much warmer in the Valley than up in the mountains, Curtin said, and irrigation season has begun, so TID and Modesto Irrigation District customers are drawing from the canals. When a warm storm melts snowpack earlier in the year, “it’s tricky because the canals are not being used yet, growers don’t want the water on their property because the rain meets their needs, he said. “That’s another level of complexity.”

The wet winter gave the Dodge Ridge ski and snowboarding resort in Pinecrest a season that stretched nearly five months. It ended Easter Sunday, as did Bear Valley Resort’s. But here in the Valley, river and reservoir recreation is well underway, and sure to draw throngs as temperatures climb.

Read Next

With the recreation comes risk. Already this year, a 5-year-old girl drowned in March after slipping from a rock into the swift, cold Stanislaus River in Knights Ferry, and two kayakers were pulled from the Tuolumne River in Modesto early this month after being stuck two nights in the water.

Both rivers currently are flowing at about 4,000 cubic feet per second, Battalion Chief Eric DeHart of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District said Tuesday. Compare that to the flows of as little as 200 cfs by late summer and it’s easy to understand how high and swift the water is now.

Then there’s the cold. The rivers, still being fed by snowmelt, are in the low 50s, DeHart said. The National Center for Cold Water Safety calls water in the range of 50 to 60 degrees very dangerous and immediately life-threatening. What can happen to a swimmer (worse yet, a nonswimmer) in water that cold? “Total loss of breathing control,” the nonprofit organization’s website says. “Maximum intensity cold shock. Unable to control gasping and hyperventilation.”

“We always would like to tell people it’s better to go to the lakes, the static bodies of water,” DeHart said. “It’s a bit safer this time of year, assuming people are not overindulging in alcohol” and are following safety precautions, including wearing life vests when in the water or in a boat.

To those tempted to get into rivers to cool off, he said, his department, which includes a Swift Water Rescue Team, continues to reiterate that even in areas where the flow appears calm, it’s still treacherous. “I can almost guarantee our calls for service will increase” as people flock to the shores this spring and summer.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Stanislaus Consolidated has life jackets for loan at four of its stations: 4845 and 7737 Yosemite Blvd., Modesto; 321 E St., Waterford; and 3318 Topeka St., Riverbank. According to the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways, loaner life jackets also are available at Oakdale Fire Protection District stations, at Woodward Reservoir and at Stanislaus River Parks in Knights Ferry.