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River Flows On The Rise
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The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates New Melones Reservoir, and the Oakdale Irrigation District recently released information about flow increases in the Stanislaus River.

OID and its sister district, South San Joaquin Irrigation District, began making releases from Goodwin Dam on April 10 to aid with “fish flows” in addition to the National Marine Fisheries Service Biological Opinion flows and regular irrigation release flows.

The additional releases started on April 10 at 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) and continue to increase. On Wednesday, April 17, the flow will jump from 750 cfs at 1 a.m. to 1,500 cfs by 5 a.m.

On April 22 the flow will double again from 1,500 cfs to 3,000 cfs by 7 a.m.

The information released shows that the peak flow of 3,000 cfs in the Stanislaus River will continue until May 10.

“The river will be at the flow level it was in 2011 when it was the big snow melt,” said OID General Manager Steve Knell.

At that time, the high river flows ran at about 3,000 cfs. After that, the flows are expected to begin to taper down daily.

Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District Battalion chief Paul Spani said that the changes in the river levels are noticeable. His crew was dispatched to a river rescue upstream at the Horseshoe Recreation Area on April 14. Spani said it ended up not being a rescue but they assisted four people who had fallen out of their raft. The party of four was uninjured and made their way to an island in the river but needed the rescue team’s assistance in getting from the island to the shore.

Spani said that they’ve found on rescue calls that people are usually unprepared because they didn’t call ahead to check the river levels, they don’t pay attention to what they’re seeing, and they’re unaware of submerged or partially submerged hazards. However, the biggest problems the rescuers see are the use of inexpensive rafts that are meant for pools or still water, not flowing rivers, and also not wearing life jackets or instead using devices not intended to keep someone afloat in an emergency such as floaties or pool rings.

Spani said that the river can be deceptive. In some places it can be seen how fast and turbulent the water is but in other spots, the water doesn’t look dangerous. He said that there are people who don’t know how to read the river or misjudge the dangers and get themselves into trouble. Inexperience and alcohol are also big danger factors on the river.

Not having a life jacket or proper floatation device is no excuse, as Spani reported that there are several places where people can get loaner life jackets free of charge. He said that Stanislaus Consolidated Fire’s stations in Riverbank, Waterford, and Empire have the program, as well as Oakdale Fire Department. He said that the life jackets are loaned out for free on the honor system with the expectation they’ll be returned and variable sizes from child to adult are available.

Spani’s tips for staying safe are to check ahead of time to learn the anticipated river flows, make sure the life vest is appropriate for the river, the raft is sufficient for river conditions, and wear the life jackets. A life jacket can’t help if it’s not worn before an incident happens.

If people should find themselves overboard, Spani said it’s important not to panic. The person in the water should make their way to an island in the river or to the shoreline if possible. He said to beware of vines and branches in the water, as they can act as strainers and the rapid-flowing water can trap people against them. The temperature in the river is also “very cold,” Spani said, adding that it does have a quick effect, especially if the person isn’t wearing a wet suit or dry suit. Swimsuits or shorts and T-shirts don’t offer any protection against the cold temperature. He noted that any period of time in the cold water will result in the muscles being affected, and eventually if in the cold water too long, a person’s judgment will be affected as well.

Daily information on expected flows in the Stanislaus River is available on the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center website at or from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ website at