BLM warns of colder, swifter and more dangerous rivers, including Merced River

Merced River as it flows south of the town Snelling.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Merced River as it flows south of the town Snelling. Merced Sun-Star

The Bureau of Land Management's Mother Lode office said that because area rivers are experiencing unseasonably colder, swifter and more dangerous flows, it's asking river users to exercise caution when enjoying local river recreation.

The conditions have contributed to three near drownings on the Merced Wild and Scenic River in recent weeks.

Rivers that would normally be receding in velocity and cubic feet per second are now high and rising, according to Mother Lode Recreation Planner Jeff Horn. "The combination of an unseasonably cool spring, significant snowpacks in the Sierra Nevada, and the warming temperatures have created June conditions that haven't been seen in 20 years," he said. "People should be careful around all of the rivers in the foothills and never boat alone."

With rivers such as the Merced Wild and Scenic River flowing at 12,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), river users should be aware of river safety. BLM advised parents to be especially watchful of small children around areas of high flow.

The federal agency offered these river safety tips:

1. Wear a Coast Guard-approved adjustable life jacket, helmet, protective footwear and proper clothing suitable for the type of white water you are in.

2. Be sure your whitewater skills and experience are equal to the river and the conditions you are going to run. Never boat alone.

3. Tell someone where you are going, when you expect to return and where to call if you don't.

4. Know your limits. Know how to self-rescue on whitewater rivers. Know when and how to swim for an eddy.

5. Be prepared for extremes in weather, especially cold. Know about the dangers of hypothermia (too low body temperature) and how to deal with it. When air and water temperature add up to 120 degrees or less, hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) is a high risk.

6. Wear a wet suit and booties in spring to early summer and always in Class V water.

7. Know how to recognize and react to river hazards such as holes, wrap rocks, undercut boulders and walls, rock sieves and horizon lines across the river.

8. Never run a rapid unless you can see a clear path through it. Watch out for new snags after winter and spring floods.

9. Carry a first-aid kit and know how to use it. Learn or review medical aid responsibilities and CPR. Avoid rattlesnakes and poison oak, but know how to deal with emergencies if someone is unlucky.

10. When in doubt, stop and scout. If you are still in doubt, portage. Remote rivers through isolated wilderness should be approached with caution, since aid is hard or impossible to get in case of an accident.