Water levels on the Stanislaus River began increasing on April 1 for required spring fish flows. Information provided by the Oakdale Irrigation District shows that releases from Goodwin Dam have increased daily, starting at 300 CFS (cubic feet per second) on April 1 and rising to 1,250 CFS today, Wednesday, April 4. The river will continue to rise and peak at 2,000 CFS by Saturday, April 7.
With river levels rising so quickly, Oakdale emergency personnel are advising caution to people who recreate on the river.
River levels will go down slightly, beginning on April 10, to 1,800 CFS, then to 1,600 CFS, then to 1,500 CFS. On April 19, the river will increase again to 1,750 CFS and then up to 2,000 CFS. It will start to go down to 1,800 CFS on April 23, then will end up at 1,500 CFS.
All releases or adjustments to water levels take place at either 1 a.m., 3 a.m., and/or 5 a.m.
Kevin Wise, acting battalion chief for Oakdale City Fire Department, said that the high water levels are reminiscent of this past summer.
“Last year was probably the busiest year we’ve ever had on the river, since I’ve been here. We had multiple rescues,” he said. “It lasted all summer long at the 2,000 (CFS) level.”
Among the biggest problems are that people go out there with cheap rafts and no training, Wise said, but even some of the experienced rafters had problems on the river last year. They’re expecting more of the same as more people enter the waters.
“Those currents push people up into the trees and they get thrown out of their rafts,” Wise said.
He advised that if people are going to raft on the river they should go with river companies in a raft that’s manned by a guide who’s experienced.
“Life jackets. That’s huge. You’ve got to have a life jacket,” he cautioned. “(When the river is) up that high, you’re moving really fast…you hit snags…it pops the cheap rafts.”
Wise reported that there were a couple of fatalities on the Stanislaus in Riverbank last year because the people weren’t wearing life jackets. However, even with a life jacket, entering the water is still dangerous.
“The water is cold, you can get hypothermia really quick,” he stated.” Plus you have to plan on how long it takes for us to get out there. Someone has to have a phone, it has to be dry…”
He said rescue crews usually find out about river emergencies because of a homeowner who lives along the river who hears people’s cries for help and then calls 911. Once the rescue crews arrive, they then have to put their boat in the water and all this takes time.
Wise said that the first warm day last year resulted in the first fatality in Riverbank and then another shortly thereafter in the Ripon/Salida area of the Stanislaus River.
“The warm weather brings them out but the water is really cold,” he said.
Wise added that they do have a life jacket loaner program, in which they partnered last year with OID to provide funding. He urged people to go to Oakdale Station #5 at 325 East G St., or go to the station in Knights Ferry at 17700 Main St., fill out the form, use the life jacket for the day and return it when done. He noted that one point to remember is that the Knights Ferry station is sometimes browned out.
To stay totally safe from the rapid, cold waters, the message typically the same: stay out of the river.