‘Peak drowning season’: Officials issue cold water warnings as snowpack melts into local waterways

Local News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Despite the recent dusting of snow in the Sierra, higher temperatures are beginning to melt the snowpack that has been accumulating since winter. 

With more people looking to take advantage of outdoor activities near bodies of water, Pacific Gas & Electric put out a cold water warning for those using its recreational facilities. PG&E releases water from a series of reservoirs to make electricity, taking advantage of the melting snow. 

The water is just as cold on other tributaries, like the Middle and North forks of the American River near Auburn and the South Fork that runs down into Sacramento. 

“Spring is our peak drowning season because the water is running so cold and fast people are unprepared, and we tend to have cold water drownings as a result,” said Sgt. Loren Shoemaker, the superintendent at the Auburn State Recreation Area.

Quickly melting snow and reservoir releases can change water levels quickly.

“Sometimes can be standing on the rocks, to take family photos or just hiking down near the waterway and not anticipate the quick rise in the river,” Shoemaker said.

Auburn Recreation Area officials are telling people to stay out of the water — at least in the near future — because of the area’s history of drownings. 

Seventeen-year-old Melino Liu drowned earlier this week in the lower American River in Rancho Cordova, where fire rescue personnel say cold water may have been a factor. He was not wearing a life vest. 

For the first time, a team of State Parks lifeguards is being stationed at the confluence. 

“We find that people oftentimes do not know about the strength of the flow of the water and the temperature of the water,” said lifeguard Gordon Pershall.

More and more life vest stations are being set up at river access areas where they can be borrowed for the day. Officials ask visitors to bring their own life jackets if they are in an area without a station.

Falling into cold water can cause hypothermia quickly, shutting down body functions and motor control. 

“No matter how strong a swimmer you think you are, cold water hits you. You could just get too fatigued and not be able to get across,” said lifeguard Wyatt Jackson.

First responders say that while many believe life vests are bulky and cumbersome, you have a 95% chance of surviving a potential drowning incident if you wear one.

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