Kayakers and paddle-boarders traveling up and down the two-mile stretch of the Mokelumne River that forms the city of Lodi’s northern border are worried about their safety as Jet Skis and power boats zip through the narrow canal.
Homeowners along the river and people enjoying the nature trails in the Lodi Lake Nature Area are bothered by the noise. They want to find a way to limit access by Jet Skis and powerboats to that section of the river.
It’s a battle that has raged for decades.
But an increase of kayakers and paddle-boarders on the river in recent years has led to more and more confrontations between the two groups of river users.
Marilyn Hughes, a kayaker and docent at the Lodi Wilderness Area, wanted to know what could be done to regulate usage — such as making the speed limit on the river 5 mph, the same as Lodi Lake.
City officials’ hands are tied, as Lodi’s jurisdiction ends at the south bank of the river, meaning anything that happens on the Mokelumne is under control of San Joaquin County.
So Hughes brought together a group of roughly 40 concerned Lodi residents with representatives of the Lodi Police Department and the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department at a meeting Thursday to see what could be done to address their concerns.
Lt. James Lenzi of the Sheriff’s department explained that in 2000, after a young boy was killed by a boat speeding down the river, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors implemented rules that are currently enforced.
Under those rules there is a 5 mph speed limit on the river from 7 p.m. to noon, although boats are not allowed on the river from sunset to sunrise. From noon until 7 p.m. Jet Skiers and power boaters are free to travel as fast as they like, as long as they are obeying other state boating laws concerning when watercraft pass each other on the water way.
Many of the people at the meeting acknowledged that the majority of Jet Skiers and power boaters follow the rules and use the river responsibly. It’s the few who don’t that cause the problem.
Those are the people Lenzi and Sgt. Carey T. Pehl, who heads the Sheriff’s department’s Boating Safety Unit, want to crack down on.
Lenzi said the Sheriff’s department on working on ways to increase safety on the river for the 2014 peak-summer season that runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day. He said the department is working with other agencies and groups of residents like the ones Hughes brought together to help educate people about the rules of the river.
He said the department plans to set up decoys and officers who are not immediately recognizable as law enforcement to help catch scofflaws next summer.
He suggested pamphlets detailing the rules be given out to people launching boats into the river from Lodi Lake.
He also asked people at the meeting to consider joining the departments volunteer program, which has a boat it runs on that stretch of the river to educate boaters and report problems and crimes to law enforcement officers.
The volunteers cannot arrest or cite people who are breaking the law, but Lenzi said deputies may also be stationed on the volunteer boat that can.
Lodi City Attorney Steve Schwabauer suggested that because the situation on the river has changed and there are more non-motorized craft on the waterway, the group should ask the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors to take another look at the issue and perhaps change the laws.
After the meeting, Hughes said the group would work with officials on education and continue looking for solutions. She said she is even interested in joining the Sheriff’s department’s volunteer group.
“I’m going to learn to drive a boat,” she said, referring to the volunteers’ powerboat.