Officials: Grab life jacket before heading into Sacramento rivers

High water flows expected on the American and Sacramento rivers and the deaths of 11 people on Sacramento waterways last summer prompted officials to remind swimmers on Friday to use life jackets.

With Folsom Lake expected to fill, flows down the American River are expected to be strong through the summer months. That means the Drowning Accident Rescue Team will be patrolling, firefighters will be at the ready and life jackets will be free for use on beaches.

Last year, the Sacramento Fire Department alone responded to the rivers more than 50 times on rescue calls and helped 30 swimmers to the shore. Still, 11 people died in the water.

Sacramento city and county officials came together on Tiscornia Beach, site of seven of the drownings last summer, to sound the alarm and encourage life jacket use. Two programs “Life Looks Good on You” and “Kids Don’t Float” provide life preservers at area beaches.

Sacramento County spokeswoman Karen Doron said the “Life Looks Good” program is new and provides orange life jackets to adults at Tiscornia Beach. The “Kids Don’t Float” program, which is at various spots along the American River, including Tiscornia Beach, provide free yellow life jackets for children to use.

Officials wanted to start the “Life Looks Good” program because of a rash of drownings involving adults on Tiscornia Beach at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers.

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“This is one of the most dangerous places to be in the water in our community,” said Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna as he stood on Tiscornia Beach. “The lives we lost last year were people who believed they were capable swimmers, a lot of them fit, young males. When you are at the confluence of two swift-moving, cold rivers you are going to be no match for Mother Nature.”

City Councilman Jeff Harris said drowning can be prevented. He encouraged parents to place life jackets on their children and grab one for themselves, too.

“Thankfully we had great rain this year,” Harris said. “It looks like Folsom reservoir will fill to capacity. That means we are going to have a lot of cold water flowing down the American River.”

When swimmers drown, their bodies are often recovered by volunteer members of DART. Leslie Robinson, vice president of the organization, said members will be in boats again this year with weekend patrols, encouraging people to put on life jackets.

“We are worried about all the adults who are not wearing life jackets, those are the victims that we typically have to come and recover,” Robinson said. “We will be spreading the word about ‘Life Looks Good on You’ and ‘Kids Don’t Float.’ 

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews

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