The human toll from California’s dangerous river conditions climbed again last weekend after authorities reported a boy drowned and another person missing and the bodies of two others pulled from swift, cold waters in the Sacramento and Central valleys.
First responders and law enforcement agencies in the state’s low-lying communities have been sounding the alarm for months that as the state transitioned into spring and now summer, the historic snowpack in the Sierra Nevada was going to melt and create deadly conditions downstream.
“Please don’t become a statistic,” the Turlock Rural Fire Department put it bluntly on Facebook this weekend, after the second drowning in two weeks.
But more deaths were reported.
On Saturday morning, the West Sacramento Fire Department pulled the body of an unidentified man out of the American River under a railroad bridge. About an hour later, authorities said they were searching for another person who jumped into the river the previous night.
That same day and an hour’s drive south, a 7-year-old boy swimming with his twin brother drowned in the Sacramento River in Solano County. The boy was swimming at Sandy Beach County Park when he drowned, reported KTXL. There’s no lifeguard at the beach, so visitors are swimming at their own risk there, officials said.
In Stanislaus County on Sunday, the Turlock Rural Fire Department said it was investigating a possible drowning in a channel fed from the Tuolumne River. The body was recovered once the canal flow was reduced.
“We would like to remind the public that Turlock Irrigation District Canals are private property. The canals are at peak flow and are very cold,” the department said. “They are NOT for swimming or playing near. This is the second drowning in the Turlock Rural District in 2 weeks.”
Some areas in California’s rivers can be enjoyed safely if the right precautions are in place, as recreational companies will attest.
That wasn’t the case in Oakdale on Sunday however, where a group of nine whitewater rafters narrowly avoided catastrophe when their raft overturned and the group fell into the fast-moving river, according to the Modesto Bee.
The nine had rented the raft without a tour guide familiar with the river’s layout, the paper reported. It took two boats to fish them all out, and authorities credit their survival to the fact they were all wearing life jackets. The river’s current and scattered debris can play a role in pulling a person beneath the water and holding them there until it’s too late, experts say.
The state’s Department of Public Health was compelled to make a public plea for caution on Monday as the casualty count continues to climb.
“We can enjoy all the summer fun California has to offer when we put safety first. My message is simple: no more drownings. Not this summer, not any summer,” Public Health Officer Karen Smith said in a video first published last year. “No more drownings. Not one more.”
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