Dangerous beauty | TheUnion.com

Dangerous beauty

Every year, people die when they underestimate the dangers of the Yuba River’s cold, swift, powerful water, Nevada County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Coordinator Walt Jones said.

This year, Jones is trying to avoid more tragedies by posting additional warning posters at the water’s edge and handing out coloring booklets at sheriff’s events to educate children about proper river precautions.

“I’m tired of calling people and telling them their loved ones have not survived,” Jones said Tuesday. “Sometimes I feel like the Grim Reaper.”

Warm weather is melting high Sierra snow – fast – causing higher water levels, said Washington Fire Chief Mike Stewart.

Snowmelt caused the river’s water level to increase several hundred feet Monday after more water was released at Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s Spaulding Dam, Jones said.

“The river isn’t considered safe until it’s flowing at a trickle,” Jones said. “At least wait until July 4 to swim in it.”

The water is currently cold enough – 53 degrees Tuesday – to induce hypothermia within a matter of minutes, Jones added.

Last summer, a Reno man died after he jumped into the water at a popular swimming spot near the Town of Washington. In 2006, three men – Samuel Newman of Sacramento, Zachary Harder of Roseville and Mark Ray of Manchester, England – drowned at popular swimming spots, deceived by the water’s peaceful appearance.

All of the men were in good health and knew how to swim, according to their friends and family. However, the men couldn’t resist the force of the river when one of their limbs became stuck on underwater debris, or became wedged between rocks, said Nevada County Search and Rescue volunteer Bill Carter.

“Water flowing at 8 mph hour creates 300 pounds of force,” Jones said, adding that eight miles per hour appears peaceful. “Imagine trying to sustain a bench press of 300 pounds. You just can’t do it.”

Most of the people killed at the river are not from Nevada County and are unfamiliar with the river’s danger, but they were with Nevada County residents at the time, Jones said.

“People need to make sure their out-of-town friends know just how powerful the water is,” he said.

If people insist upon swimming in the river in early summer, they need to use protective gear, such as life vests, helmets and wetsuits, he added.

“Kayakers use safety equipment, and it can save their lives,” Jones said.

People who do find themselves in the water and overpowered by the current should point their feet downstream, use their arms and legs to deflect rocks and debris that can fatally snag a swimmer, and float until they can safely move to an embankment, Jones said.

And if your dog jumps in the water and is swept away, as Samuel Newman’s dog was, don’t jump in after it, Carter said.

“Dogs can swim,” Carter said. “They’re very resilient and they’ll survive. Let them go.”

If people insist on jumping from a high rock into the water, they should check the water below first to make sure it’s safe, Jones said.

“I’d rather that people survive their mistakes,” he said.

To check water levels and flow rates on the river, go to http://www.dreamflows.com.

To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail rmoormeister@theunion.com or call 477-4236.

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