Authorities are stepping up their warnings about treacherous conditions on the Stanislaus River after 10 rafters and swimmers were rescued this week south of Manteca and west of Ripon.
The rafters and swimmers were saved from the cold and fast-moving Stanislaus River Tuesday evening. The chain of events began with the capsizing of a raft near Caswell State Park when five people were dumped into the unforgiving surging snow run-off.
A frantic 911 call went into the Ripon Fire Department dispatcher about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday asking for help to find two missing rafters who were swept down the river. The call brought out fire rescue boats and two rescue kayaks to the state park at the south end of Austin Road. The successful rescues would continue some three hours before all were pulled to safety.
Two of the rafters were found clinging onto branches along the shoreline and three other juveniles were located stranded on an island in the river. A 6-year-old girl was found alone farther down the river by a kayak rescuer who waited with the young girl until other emergency responders could reach them through the undergrowth of bushes where a woman was found clinging to branches along the river.
In addition, five more rafters floated on by the firefighters and missed the last beach exit from the river where the first responders finally pulled three out of the water and sending the water rescue boat to rescue the remaining two rafters.
The Stanislaus County Fire Department rescuers from Salida and the Sheriff’s Department Boat Crew were also dispatched to aid in the rescues.
Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters has been very vocal in warning residents to stay out of the river unless they are wearing life vests to keep them afloat and alive, especially after the drowning of a 21-year-old Lodi swimmer several weeks ago under the Highway 99 bridge. There were three drownings on the Stanislaus River in 2017 between Knights Ferry and its confluence with the San Joaquin River.
Even though spring pulse flows on the Stanislaus River are beginning to wind down, boaters, rafters, canoers and other river-goers are reminded to use caution and take appropriate safety measures while enjoying the river this summer.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation, in tandem with the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts, increased flows in mid-May to 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Pulse flows are intended to help juvenile salmon begin their perilous journey down the river, through the Delta and, eventually, to the Pacific Ocean.
On Thurday, the river is running at about 2,000 cfs. Beginning early today, the Bureau gradually will decrease flows to as low as 500 cfs by June 4. Then, there will be one last sequence of higher flows after that to encourage any remaining juvenile salmon to move downstream.
Between June 5 and June 7, flows will increase again to 1,600 cfs before beginning a steady decline to a typical summertime 300 cfs by the end of the month.
Higher flows create hazardous conditions most people are not accustomed to. If you must go near the river, it is advised to wear a life jacket at all times. Free life jackets can be reserved and checked out at five locations in the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Department:
* Station 26 at 3318 Topeka St., Riverbank
*Station 27 at 450 S. Willowood Drive, Oakdale
*Station 28 at 325 E. G St., Oakdale
*Station 29 at 17700 Main St., Knights Ferry
*Station 30 at 13200 Valley Home Road, Valley Home
Life jackets come in sizes for adults to small children. For more information, call 869-7470.
The Manteca Fire Department conducts a similar free life jacket program out of its Union Road station.
The river and its series of nine parks from the McHenry Avenue Bridge east to Knights Ferry – collectively known as the String of Pearls – are a popular summertime playground. The parks provide access for boaters, kayakers, rafters, hikers and fishermen.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email email@example.com.