The Stanislaus River — that has already claimed one drowning victim in Ripon this year — has gotten more dangerous.
It’s due to the annual spring pulse flows designed to help juvenile salmon on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Releases being doubled to 3,000 cubic feet — the equivalent of 3,000 basketballs filled with water passing a set point in a second — from the New Melones Reservoir.
And given this is runoff from the spring snowmelt the water is cold as well as swift. That means the human body is more susceptible to shutting down in the water that is now fluctuating between 55 and 57 degrees as it passes through Ripon in addition to the strong currents being a challenge even for strong and experienced swimmers.
At the same time the cold, fast river and its currents mean inexperienced rafters often get pushed further into brushy riverbanks, which creates hazardous conditions most people are not accustomed to.
Professional rafting guides caution that while the flows are doubled through the end of May — including over Memorial Day weekend — it is not a safe time to be on the river.
Boaters, rafters, fishermen and others accessing the river are strongly encouraged to use caution. If you must go near the river, it is advised to wear a life jacket at all times. Manteca Fire Department through its Union Road station has a free loaner life jacket program.
Last year three people lost their lives during the spring runoff along the Stanislaus River between Knights Ferry and Ripon.
Spring pulse flows are part of a coordinated water management system involving the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which operates New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River, and the South San Joaquin and Oakdale irrigation districts, which have historic water rights on the river.
The flows are intended to help juvenile salmon – the product of last fall’s spawning season — begin their perilous journey down the river, through the Delta and, eventually, to the Pacific Ocean. Those who survive will be among the adults who return in three years to spawn, die and begin the cycle again.
The year’s flows are being augmented by additional water provided by the irrigation districts.
These augmented flows provide additional outmigration incentives for young salmon as well as an opportunity for West Side farmers to use this surface water for irrigation, reducing groundwater use. Water districts on the San Joaquin Valley’s West Side are dependent upon the federal and state systems. This year, as frequently occurs, they will receive less than their full annual allocations.
The same water warning in is place for the Tuolumne River.
SSJID and OID officials encourage anyone who wants to enjoy recreational activities on or near the Stanislaus or Tuolumne rivers to use regionally managed parks at Woodward, Tulloch, Modesto and Turlock reservoirs, at least until river flows subside to safer levels.