Despite this year’s below-normal snowfall, the spring snowmelt can still result in swift and cold river flows that can create treacherous conditions for all recreationists – waders, swimmers, paddlers, boaters, anglers, and even hikers cooling off at the water’s edge. Lower water levels can also expose hazards or make them closer to the surface.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), California State Parks and its Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) caution that even though the water content of California’s mountain snowpack is below normal, the snowpack is rapidly melting as mid-spring temperatures continue to rise. As warmer weather and longer days speed up melting snow in mountainous regions, water temperatures will continue to drop and flows can change suddenly in waterways and reservoirs.
“We ask those enjoying the outdoors to be careful near mountain streams, rivers and reservoirs,” said Randy Livingston, PG&E’s Vice President of Power Generation. “Water flows will fluctuate with the warming and cooling of the day so always be prepared for a change in conditions.”
“Never get too comfortable around water when recreating, no matter how low the levels are,” said Major General Anthony L. Jackson, USMC (Ret.), Director of California State Parks. “This year we are asking water enthusiasts to adjust with water-related activities to the drought conditions. Water conditions in some waterways are low enough to make for hazardous boating. It is also critical for everyone in or around the water to wear life jackets at all times, no matter if water levels are low.”
“Spring is a wonderful time to recreate in California’s waterways,” said Sylvia Ortega Hunter, DBW’s Deputy Director. “But please read the safety tips in this water safety warning because making a mistake could threaten the life of a loved one.”
Water safety tips:
Know the Water
- Sudden immersion in cold water can stimulate the “gasp reflex,” causing an involuntary inhalation of air or water. It can even trigger cardiac arrest, temporary paralysis, hypothermia and drowning.When faced with swift water, even the strongest swimmers may be easily overwhelmed.
- Cold water entering the ear canal can cause vertigo and disorientation. This may confuse swimmers, causing them to venture deeper into the water.
- Recreating in PG&E canals and flumes is strictly prohibited. Stay out of canals and flumes, which are very dangerous due to slippery sides and fast moving water.
- Lower lakes and rivers can expose hazards like rocks and trees, or make them closer to the surface.
Know your Limits
- Swimming in open water is more difficult than in a swimming pool – people tire more quickly and can get into trouble.
- Cold water causes impairment leading to fatalities. It reduces body heat 25 to 30 times faster than air does at the same temperature.
- Many unseen obstacles can be lurking below the water’s surface. Swift water can make these obstacles even more treacherous. Guided trips for inexperienced paddlers are recommended.
Wear a Life Jacket
- Conditions change quickly in open water and even the best swimmers can misjudge the water and their skills when boating or swimming. Wearing a life jacket can increase survival time.
- A life jacket can provide some thermal protection against the onset of hypothermia and keep you afloat until someone else can rescue you.
- Actively supervise children in and around open bodies of water, giving them your undivided attention. Appoint a designated “water watcher,” taking turns with other adults.
- Teach children that swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in a pool: they need to be aware of uneven surfaces, river currents, ocean undertow and changing weather.
Know the Law
- Every child under 13 must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket when on a moving vessel that is 26 feet or less in length.
- A Coast Guard-approved life jacket must be carried for each person on board a boat. This includes rigid or inflatable paddlecraft.
- Every person on board a personal watercraft (popularly known as “jet skis”) and any person being towed behind a vessel must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
- It is against the law to operate a boat or water ski with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. You can be arrested even when your BAC is less than 0.08 percent if conditions are deemed to be unsafe.