Spring rains, large snowpack swell California rivers
June 7, 2010
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – An abundance of melting snow in the Sierra Nevada coupled with late spring storms across Northern California has created unusually hazardous river conditions but spectacular waterfalls, including the famed cascades at Yosemite National Park.
The federal government this week released more water than normal out of California’s largest reservoir to make room for an influx of water after recent rains swelled the streams and rivers that feed Shasta Lake.
Up to twice as much water was being sent down the Sacramento River at a time many swimmers, rafters and boaters were flocking to the water for summer fun.
“Water is going to be running colder, it’s going to be running faster, it’s going to be running higher,” said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero. “People need to be cautious about their activities on the water.”
While it’s not unusual for rivers to swell as they absorb the Sierra Nevada snowmelt, the timing is late this year after a colder and damper spring.
The snowpack along the 400-mile range also is more than twice as deep as it usually is at this time of year, said Ted Thomas, a spokesman at the state Department of Water Resources.
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At Yosemite National Park, waterfalls are springing up in areas where they haven’t flowed for years, park ranger Scott Gediman said. He called the conditions incredible.
“We’ve got hundreds of unnamed waterfalls,” he said.
Many of those rivers and streams are flowing into the Merced River, which could flood its banks this weekend and spill into some of Yosemite’s low-lying campgrounds. The campgrounds are not yet open to the public for that reason.
Most of the state’s reservoirs have been able to handle the additional snowmelt after three dry years left storage supplies precariously low.
Shasta is unique because 90 percent of it is filled by rainwater, rather than snowmelt, Lucero said. So when the recent storms moved into Northern California, federal officials began releasing water into the Sacramento River to make room behind Shasta Dam.
That prompted the National Weather Service to warn outdoor enthusiasts to use “extreme caution” near rivers, streams and reservoirs.
“This is a significant amount of water for this time of year,” said Cindy Matthews, a hydrologist at National Weather Service in Sacramento. “With the water as cold as it is, it’s much easier for people to come into danger with their lives.”
Swimmers heading out to the Sacramento River and its tributaries risk being swept up by the fast-moving currents or finding themselves unable to cope with the cold water, authorities say.
The Placer County Sheriff’s Department recommended swimmers stay out of the water this weekend despite the warm weather.
“You jump into that kind of water and it’s physically shocking,” said Ed Clark, head of the marine patrol and dive teams at the sheriff’s department. “It saps your strength, it gets you cold fast and you have trouble swimming.”