With temperatures expected to warm into the mid-90s this weekend, parks and rescue personnel say that if you must enter the water, do so with caution. Rivers are running cold, fast and high from mountain snowmelt.
Already this year, a teen has drowned in the American River at Negro Bar and rafters have been forced against the pilings of a bike and pedestrian bridge, requiring a fire boat to rescue them.
The big snowpack from this winter’s heavy precipitation means that there’s twice the amount of water in the river than last spring during the drought. Increased flows translate into a high and fast American River from Folsom Lake to the confluence with the Sacramento River at Discovery Park, a prime drowning spot in years past.
Firefighter-paramedic Chris Harvey, spokesman for the Sacramento Fire Department, said people who want to beat the heat this spring will find a very different river. Don’t venture far from shore, and don’t try to swim across the river on a dare, he said.
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“I would stop short of saying don’t go into the water,” Harvey said. “But if people plan on going to the river they should bring a life vest. The law states that 13-and-under must wear a life vest.”
The river the last few years has been low and slow. This week, the American River is flowing at about 9,100 cubic feet per second compared to about 5,100 cfs a year ago. American River temperatures are hovering in the low- to mid-50s.
Jeff Leatherman, Sacramento County Parks director, said rangers are anticipating a busy weekend on the American River Parkway. He reminded people that the heavy winter flows have altered beaches and river bottoms.
“The river has changed significantly since September,” he said. “Even if it is a place where you have been with your family 100 times, make sure there are not snags.”
Racks are stocked with loaner life jackets at Sunrise Boulevard, Ancil Hoffman Park, River Bend, Watt Avenue, Paradise Beach in River Park and Elkhorn. Discovery Park and the Howe Avenue river access will remain closed this weekend due to winter storm-related damage and high water.
The boat launch in upper Sunrise Park will be closed. County rangers ask rafters to launch downstream of Jim’s Bridge to avoid being caught up on the pilings of the pedestrian-bicycle bridge.