Kent Hansen would usually call rafting trips with American River Rentals a “lazy float.” Along the American River in Rancho Cordova, the company takes care of a 6-mile stretch that is easy to get around. Most of the time, the trips don’t need guides because it’s so quiet.
“Don’t confuse us with whitewater rafting on the South Fork, the Middle Fork, or the North Fork of the American,” he said. “For that, you definitely need a guide.”
But this year, as the snowpack from last winter starts to melt, officials have noticed that the water in rivers across the state is moving faster and is warmer. You might now see signs along the American River telling people not to boat, raft, or swim in places where those things are usually done.
Hansen is a co-owner of American River Rentals. He said the business is closed for now. It stays open most of the time if the river flow stays below 8,000 cubic feet per second. In the last few days, the river has reached a level of 15,000 CFS.
The head ranger for Sacramento County Regional Parks, Leonard Orman, said that he thinks the river will get stronger and weaker over the course of the summer.
Orman said, “It will be a bit of a roller coaster because it will all depend on the weather in the high country.” “The snow melt will speed up if we start having long stretches of really warm weather, which I’m sure we will at high elevations.”
At least two people have been taken away by currents in the North Fork American River in the past few weeks, according to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. They are telling people who want to swim not to do so. A representative for the Placer County Water Agency, Ross Branch, said that strong flows caused by spring also mean stronger currents.
The tweet below from National Weather Service Sacramento gives a warning:
It may be tempting to jump in the water this holiday weekend, but area waterways are still running FAST and COLD due to snowmelt. 🥶Remember, even experienced swimmers can lose muscle control in a matter of minutes!#CAwx pic.twitter.com/XmIgdB5RKo
— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) May 24, 2023
“If you’re out there on a day with a temperature of 100 degrees or more and look at the water, it looks very calm and like it would be very refreshing, but it’s going to be very cold,” he said. “You’ll be surprised by how strong the current is, which is why we’re telling anyone who wants to go swimming to be careful.”
Orman said that he has been getting more calls about water rescues along the American River in the past few weeks. He said that these kinds of calls usually come in the summer, but now they are coming much earlier and the problems are worse. He said that he has gotten a lot of calls from people who are getting swept away by the strong river, like kayakers.
“We’re getting people in the middle of the night who have wrecked and are stuck on islands,” he said. “So, it’s also a lot more important in terms of results.”
Orman said that a usual reason for these problems is that people don’t think the river is as big as it is. Many people who are used to rivers that are warmer and move more slowly are going to the river the way they usually do, which doesn’t work this year, he said.
“It’s really cold for this time of year when it’s usually a lot warmer,” he said. “Even if you’re an Olympic swimmer, that will make it much harder for you to swim to shore, if you can do it at all in the strong currents.”
His advice is the same as that of Placer County: don’t go in the water. He also said that this is true for rivers other than the Americans.
“It’s not just our river,” he told her. “Rivers everywhere are being hurt right now.”
During the summer, the river’s conditions will change, and so will the safety measures. Hansen, who works for American River Rentals, said he hopes things will get better by Memorial Day. Usually, the company’s busiest time starts then and lasts until Labor Day.
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But until then, Hansen said he thinks it’s important that the company is temporarily closed. He said he thinks it will make people more likely to listen to warnings about how the river is right now.
“It’s a message to them that if we, with all of our 49 years of experience and our super durable rafts made for this river, aren’t doing it, then they shouldn’t be doing it either,” he said.
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