County officials warn of dangerous Merced River flows during holiday weekend
In preparation for the Memorial Day weekend and the summer months, Merced County officials are urging the public to stay out of the Merced River.
The Merced River will continue to be extremely dangerous from now into July due to high flows. Merced County Sheriff’s Office and the Merced Irrigation District said that due to hazardous conditions, no one should enter the river for any reason.
The county said in a news release that recent precipitation, plus rapidly-melting snowpack, have added to large volumes of water flowing down the river. Flows below Lake McClure and along the lower Merced River have reached more than 6,000 cubic feet per second.
The river typically flows at 300 cubic feet per second in late summer, when much of the snowmelt has passed, according to officials.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Office handles water rescues along the Merced River and Sheriff Vern Warnke encourages people to follow precautionary signs and stay out of the river. “The Merced River should be considered off-limits and should not be entered for recreational purposes,” said Warnke according to the release.
Warnke said that when people disregard warnings and need to be rescued, they not only put their safety on the line, but also that of personnel who risk their lives to save them.
Those who enter the water and are required to be rescued can be held personally liable for costs associated with the operation, according to Warnke.
According to the news release, Merced Irrigation District General Manager Hicham ElTal said water flowing from the New Exchequer Dam is in accordance with state and federal operating requirements.
In June of 2017, 36-year-old Stevinson resident Jose Castaneda drowned in the Merced River near Hagaman Park, after he and his wife jumped in the water when his 3-year-old daughter was swept away by the current. Castaneda’s wife and the child made it safely to shore.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Office rescued four women stranded on rafts in the Merced River near Snelling in July of 2017. In February of this year, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, rescued a stranded kayaker from an island after capsizing in the river near Snelling.
“As a result of the extreme conditions, people should be extremely vigilant about water safety and remain away from the Merced River,” ElTal said. “Entering the river at theses flows is fatal.”
Merced County Interim Fire Chief and Director of Merced County Office of Emergency Services Mike van Loben Sels, said that flows are deceptively fast along local waterways. Even though the water may seem inviting as the weather begins to warm up, it is swift, dangerous and extremely cold, he said.