Officials warn water sport enthusiasts to use caution, stay out of deep waters in days, weeks ahead

With temperatures on the rise by the middle of next week, many are eager to get out and enjoy recreational activities on the local waters, however with an abundance of snowmelt forthcoming, officials are heeding advice. That advice – be safe or stay out of the waters.

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“Cold rivers are dangerous rivers, and right now the American River is running colder than most people realize,” said Liz Bellas, Director of Regional Parks. “Water flowing through the American River right now is in the low 50 degrees. We typically see water in the high 50’s, low 60’s-degree range at this time of year.” 

As temperatures rise ahead, the pace of the snow melt in the Sierra’s will accelerate as well. This year, run off is expected to remain and record levels and posing increased dangers for those not taking safety precautions. Such dangers are expected to remain not only in the coming days and weeks, but the months ahead as Spring heads towards Summer. 

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On Wednesday, the California Department of Water Resources reported that then inflow into Folsom Lake was at 13,194 cubic feet per second. Outflow was running at 7,980 cubic feet per second. Outflow at Nimbus Dam at Lake Natoma was running at 7,844.

The Folsom Fire Department has been training on Lake Natoma in recent weeks, as first responders freshen up on their water rescue skills, not preparing for if they get a call, but rather, preparing for when they get the call for a water rescue. Sacramento Metropolitan Fire and State Parks have been busy training as well. 

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 Just this past weekend a man was swept away by fast moving waters in the American River near Auburn, an earlier reminder how cold the water is and how fierce the currents are as they can quickly overtake someone by surprise.

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First responders across the region have been preparing what is expected to be a busy year when it comes to emergency calls to area water ways. Photo: Bill Sullivan

Extremely cold water drains body heat up to four times faster than cold air. When your body hits cold water, ‘cold shock’ can cause dramatic changes in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. The sudden gasp and rapid breathing alone creates a greater risk of drowning even for confident swimmers in calm waters.

With the warmer temperatures, the area waterways will be very inviting.  The Folsom Fire Department responds several drownings or near drownings every year,” said Mark Piacentini, Assistant Fire Chief for the City of Folsom Fire Department. 

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Like others, Piacentini suggests that folks hold off going in the waters just year. However, as warm temperatures make water recreation enticing after being cooped up all winter, he advises those that do make the decision to go out, to do so with safety gear and safety in mind. The best advice, always wear a life jacket no matter how great of a swimmer you may be. 

“It is important to know that the water will be cold, moving fast, and filled with debris.  Always wear a life jacket, even if you are a good swimmer,” said Piacentini. “Fast moving water combined with colder temperatures can quickly incapacitate even the strongest of swimmers.”

The waters in Folsom’s Lake Natoma may appear calm from the shoreline. However, all should be aware of the depth of the lakes as well as the temperature and the current below could prove deadly. 

“It is important to stay out of deep water.  The current may look slow on the surface but will be moving much faster at deeper levels,” said Piacentini.  “Riverbeds can have sudden drop offs, so stay closer to the shoreline.”

Another mistake many make when enjoying a day at the river or lake, is becoming impaired during the day. Doing so, isn’t going to help you in an emergency situation. 

“Do not mix alcohol and drugs when recreating around the waterways.  These can impair your judgement and your abilities to recognize danger,” said Picentini, who noted this doesn’t only apply to those going in the water, but those watching children and others from the shoreline, staying sharp and focused could save a life. “Keep a close eye on children.  Moving water is much more dangerous that static water like a swimming pool.”

When it comes to wearing life jackets, cost may be a factor for some families. Locally, California State Parks has kiosks at the shoreline of several recreation areas offering loaner life jackets. Additonally, you can check out life jackets for both adults and children for free at Folsom Fire Station #35 located at 35 Glenn Drive in Folsom.  Making a quick stop by the station on the way to your outing could be a life-saving decision.

Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan

Bill Sullivan has over 25 years of professional journalism and content creation experience in which he has earned 37 professional awards. He is the co-founder/publisher of Folsom Times an All Town Media LLC product.