Six people died in boating-related accidents on northern and central California rivers between May 1 and June 30 of 2005, during the height of spring snow melt runoff.
With a snow pack at approximately 125 percent of normal heading into April of last year, heavy water flows and cold temperatures lasted well into the summer months, making streams, rivers and lakes dangerous.
According to the California Department of Boating and Waterways, near record rainfall in March and April has left the 2006 Sierra snow pack standing between 150 to 190 percent of normal.
The department also reports that because below normal temperatures delayed the snow melt by nearly one month, meaning that hikers heading down the river might want to think twice about cooling off in area waterways.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company and the Department of Boating and Waterways teamed up with various county, state and federal agencies in warning those planning outings to streams, rivers and reservoirs to practice extreme caution.
On Tuesday afternoon, Nevada County Consolidated Fire led a swift water rescue drill on the South Yuba River at Edward's Crossing. Representatives from the California State Parks, Nevada Irrigation District, U.S. Forestry Service, Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers and the Nevada County Sheriff's Office were on hand for the training opportunity.
With most reservoirs currently full, much of the melt-caused runoff during the next six to nine weeks will be spilled as very cold, swift moving run-off water. The flows, said Lisa Randle of PG&E, will fluctuate up and down with the warming and cool of the day creating a condition called "pulsing," or the rising and falling of the amount of water flow.
Doug Grothe, park manager at Englebright Lake, advises boaters and rafters to stay off the river until the spring run-off subsides. Rafters must take out before reaching Daguerre Point Dam, which is located 6 miles downstream of the Highway 20 bridge. In addition to the high water hazard, Grothe said, the portage point around Daguerre Dam has been filled in with gravel deposited by flood waters. This has caused rafter to have a longer and more difficult hike to get around the dam.
Grothe also warned boaters to stay clear of the dam and spillway at Englebright Lake, which has been spilling over the top since January due to near record rainfall. Because of the spill, night-time boating is currently not allowed on the lake.
The Department of Boating and Waterways offers the following tips on keeping safe while recreating on or around rivers, streams and lakes:
Kayakers and canoeists need to be prepared for swift water, which expects to be stronger than usual and certainly colder.
Watch for floating hazards such as limbs, logs, bark and other debris carried downstream by heavy rainfall and run-off.
Watch for submerged hazards such as rocks, logs and other debris not easily seen as waters recede. Keeping speed down while boating will allow more time to avoid such debris and hazards.
Wear a wetsuit, a lifejacket and a helmet, and carry two ways to call for help, such as a cell phone in a plastic bag and a whistle tied to your lifejacket, an air horn and a mirror.
Cold water can trigger cardiac arrest or cause hyperventilation that contributes to fatigue and can cause even the strongest swimmers to become overwhelmed in swift water.