Recreational waterways can still be dangerous despite drought conditions, officials warn

Local News

YUBA COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — The Yuba Water Agency manages water storage and deliveries to downstream customers while having a hand in preserving fish habitats and recreational areas. 

Currently, the agency has already begun doubling its reservoir releases at a time when visitors to the river are also expected to go up. 

Due to the time of year, those releases from upstream reservoirs are dictated by irrigation needs of downstream growers. 

“We’re going to experience some of the warmest weather we’ve had all year this weekend,” said Willie Whittlesey, general manager for the agency. “We have this COVID fatigue that’s been going on and people are going to want to get out.”

The YWA speaks from experience. Last spring, at the beginning of the pandemic, there was already some COVID-19 fatigue and there was plenty of warm weather bringing out visitors to the Yuba River in droves.

The same is true of the Yuba River and other tributaries above reservoirs where the water is uncontrolled. 

Drownings occur every year, and water officials say the rush to enjoy water activities coupled with news of an impending water shortage can overcome caution. 

“Yes, we’re in a drought year. We’re experiencing drought conditions, but we had a 75% of normal snowpack. So, we’re experiencing snow melt right now,” Whittlesey said. “That water is cold and swift. And although the temperatures are warm, it’s dangerous.” 

One of the joys of water activities along wild and semi-tamed rivers is that people can discover their own favorite spots. 

But that is a double-edged sword when someone gets into trouble with the current or cold water. 

“Many of these watering holes are in steep narrow canyons and people hike for miles from a paved road to get to their favorite spot,” Whittlesey told FOX40. “And yeah, access is difficult. Rescue would be difficult, and people need to be mindful of that this time of year.”

Often, however, the potential for danger exists in easy to get to places on the water where there are plenty of people around and emergency responders nearby. 

The YWA says the increased releases from its dams will remain high through the second week of May. 

Another reminder of the numerous drownings that occur in area waterways, rarely are the victims wearing personal flotation devices. 

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