SACRAMENTO — We are easing into the recreational season along the region’s many rivers.
It’s a season that may get an early start because of the summer-like temperatures that hit the area during this past week.
That’s why emergency responders are telling people to beware of the dangers of a water year that may see increased flows through the spring.
On the lower American River at the Sunrise Bridge, water flows three times higher than in the summer months because of water releases from dams upstream. That melting snow makes for cold water temperatures as well as fast current.
As the recreational season ramps up, emergency responders are upping their activity as well.
Multiple agencies were out on the river today including Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, Folsom Fire Department, El Dorado County Rescue Fire Department and the Sac Metro helicopter also hovered overhead.
“So this year we had this rapid increase in heat and we all want to cool off… so the American River is one place we expect to see a lot people today and through the weekend,” Sac Metro Fire Capt. Chris Vestal said.
Those who were out Friday noticed the higher water changing the shore line.
“It seems like after that last flooding through that the landscape is very different,” said Sabrina Browning.
Some beach areas are underwater, and trees and tree limbs are now an obstacle for rafters.
At American River Raft Rentals higher water means a more mellow ride because much of the San Juan rapids are underwater.
“What you have in high water is more trees along the banks and trees have sharp limbs that can easily pop rafts,” General Manager of American River Raft Rentals, Kent Hansen explained.
Though popping is less likely on multi-layered rafts with independent air cells, safety is still a priority.
“I don’t see too many people swimming this time of year cause the water is colder, but we recommend that everyone wear one of these life jackets if they’re out on one of our rafts,” Hansen said.
Crews are preparing to handle any emergency. A fire boat was training to negotiate the tricky current under the bridge.
The area under the Sunrise Bridge is known to eat up rafts and rafters and it’s a common place for rescues. Emergency boats must also know how to pass through safely to get people in trouble.
But even rescue crews say it’s better to be cautious than to rely on them to rescue you.
“When you call us, we’re still at least four minutes away from being able to launch a boat on the river, and the travel time to come and find you,” Vestal said. “If you’re submerged because you’re not wearing a floatation device, that is really not going to help us have a positive outcome for you.
Each year the lower part of the American River has been rated among the most dangerous in the country because of the number of drownings that take place in a waterway that is surrounded by residents.
Fire officials and rangers are saying enjoy the river but be smart about it.