It’s officially summer, which for many Californians means it’s river season: a time for cooling off in cold water, wading in shallows, or floating in inner tubes. This is especially true for people who live far inland from the ocean.
However, as I noted last week, the series of powerful winter storms that ravaged the state also wreaked havoc on the rivers fed by snowfall from the Sierra Nevada, turning them into raging, lethal floods.
Even in normal years, individuals can be washed away on California’s rivers, but this year’s swift currents have been judged so dangerous that some local authorities have banned access to the water, preventing everyone save commercial rafting firms from entering.
Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, told me that there is a “historic amount” of water in the area right now that is faster, colder, and more dangerous than we have seen in recent years. A human body cannot be prepared by training or exercise alone.”
A picture of California’s summer in the below tweet:
a summer evening in california pic.twitter.com/Psw6he0yPa
— Eamon 🌃 (@eamonsphotoss) June 25, 2023
The Mercury News has recorded at least 18 deaths or disappearances in waterways so far this year.
I went to the Kern River’s banks, which are northeast of Bakersfield. Locals are well aware of both the river’s beauty and perils, but many campers looking for a cheap getaway from Los Angeles or other Southern California towns are unprepared for the strong currents that lie beneath its frequently dazzling surface. (Campers told me that this year, at least, seeing foaming white-water rapids on the route to their campsites has served as a bit of a barrier for those considering a swim.)
To warn people before they approach the water, which might be alluring on a hot day, local public safety agencies and other organizations have posted public service messages on social media and posted signs in both English and Spanish.
Even the most skilled rescuers may have trouble reaching someone if they are carried into the river. As a result, it may be challenging to locate their bodies until the waves subside. These strainers are underwater tangles of tree branches and other objects.
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What safety tips do firemen and swift-water rescue specialists give to visitors? Here are a few advices:
No matter how good a swimmer you are, avoid swimming in any rivers fed by the Sierra this summer:
Consider the power of constant, high-speed traffic. Imagine it now to be made of water that is so icy that it may instantly render a human body unconscious. The rivers currently look like that as a result of the snowmelt that is flowing from the mountains. The flows are probably going to get bigger as the weather warms up.
Wear a life jacket whenever you are near a river, and make sure your kids are doing the same:
Rescuers claim that they have frequently been called upon to assist in the rescue of individuals from the Kern River who never intended to do so – individuals who lost their footing while climbing around on the enormous granite boulders that line the riverside and have been polished smooth by running currents. A life vest can prevent you from getting sucked under if you do fall in.
Never attach a pool toy or yourself to a tree or any other stationary item on the beach:
Although it might seem like a smart idea, a tether can pull you under the water or become snagged on river debris if you are washed away.
Never allow youngsters to wade into the water without constant supervision:
Children can easily abducted in an instant.
Understand where a cell signal is available:
Numerous river beaches and campers are located in far-off places with spotty or nonexistent mobile service. Spend some time planning where to go if you need to make an emergency call before the beginning of your vacation. If something goes wrong, you’ll want to call for assistance as soon as possible.
Do you still wish to relax? Think of a lake:
In addition to changing rivers, the Sierra Nevada’s record-breaking snowpack has refilled lakes and reservoirs that had dropped to dangerously low levels due to the recent drought. For instance, last summer nearly nothing remained of Isabella Lake, a reservoir on the Kern River.
But in time for the winter storms, the Army Corps of Engineers finished a dam repair operation at the lake in October, allowing the reservoir to fill once more. The water is now at its highest level in fifteen years, making it ideal for swimming and fishing.
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