Things have been slow on the section of the San Joaquin River that Gene Neely’s Lathrop Manteca Fire District patrols.
But the calls that have come this season, according to Neely, have been much more exacerbated than the routine trips that the water rescue units make out to the levee banks of the river that he says has become overcrowded with boats all traveling through the same narrow passageways.
Earlier this summer a child was killed when a family was boating through Lathrop and hit a sandbar – ejecting the child into the water where he was subsequently run over the boat. Lathrop Manteca Fire responded to that. And just over a month ago more than 140 acres burned in South Manteca near the dry river bottom that has become a tinderbox as the river flows was consistently decreased and no wet winter has brought the level up to saturate the ground. Lathrop Manteca Fire responded to that.
Both of those instances, Neely said, were likely attributed to the massive drought that is sweeping across California and has some people on edge as limited rainfall in the Sierra with winter approaching leaves a dire need to be filled by a pending El Nino winter.
He encourages anybody who will be boating on the San Joaquin River to be cautious of the changing conditions and the fact that low water levels greatly reduce the amount of space that opposing boats have to avoid a collision. That very scenario – one boat not being able to get out of the way of another boat – played itself out this summer and several people were badly injured in the collision.
“I would say to be extremely cautions of your surroundings and the river level when you’re out,” Neely said. “You can be moving along and it can go from three feet or deeper to just two inches in a split-second.
“It’s like running into a brick wall.”