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Fast, perilous currents keep Mokelumne River, recreation areas closed

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Posted: Monday, June 19, 2006 10:00 pm

Parks along the Mokelumne River will remain closed until the river slows to a more recreation-friendly pace.

Although the San Joaquin County Parks Department estimated the river would be open by mid-June, the combination of late spring storms and recent high temperatures in the Sierra Nevada have created more snow runoff than predicted, leaving the river unsafe for recreation.

In May, the river was closed when outflow from Camanche Reservoir was 4,345 cubic feet per second. That number has been reduced by nearly half during the past six weeks and is expected to be lowered to 2,250 cfs by 2 p.m. today.

But Michael Cockrell of the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services said even with such a large reduction, the water is still unsafe.

A safe flow level is about 1,500 cfs, but Cockrell said there are other factors to be considered before the San Joaquin Sheriff's Department will recommend opening the river.

"There are a lot of debris in the water from winter storms that still needs to be removed to make the water safe for recreation," Cockrell said. "The water clarity is also really poor right now, making it extremely difficult for boaters and rescue workers to see snags and other hazards in the water."

He said the low water temperature was also considered when deciding to close the river. He said water from snowmelt can be extraordinarily cold and can lead to hypothermia and drownings from disorientation.

Currently, Camanche Reservoir is close to capacity and officials are still working to make room in Pardee Reservoir for snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada.

East Bay Municipal Utilities District spokesman Charles Hardy said he expects outflow to decrease during the next two weeks.

He also said there isn't an estimate available for when the river will return to safe levels.

Late-season storms in March and April also caused erosion on the river's shores, causing the boat launch on the north side of Lodi Lake to be closed until two weekends ago.

Other river options

Kayakers and river rafters who usually use the Mokelumne River for sporting can visit stretches of other rivers in the area, currently open for recreation:
• American River South Fork
• American River North Fork
• Tuolomne River
• Stanislaus River North Fork
Opening July 1:
• American River Middle Fork
- Source: Steve Markle, O.A.R.S. River Trips.

Closures in the area are not unusual, with parks along the Mokelumne River being closed last year after a man drowned on Memorial Day from currents measuring about 2,500 cfs.

County Parks Administrator David Beadles said Woodbridge Wilderness Area has been closed for a second year because of severe erosion along the river's banks.

"Before we open the park again we want to be absolutely certain we've minimized the risk to the public," he said.

Lodi Parks Director Steve Dutra said high water currents and wakes from boaters were damaging the Lodi Lake nature area known as Pig's Lake.

The lake was closed last year when geese droppings made the water unsafe for public use during the Fourth of July weekend.

Dutra said the increased water flow from the Mokelumne River is improving water circulation within the lake.

That, combined with an ordinance to keep people from feeding the geese and orange netting around the beaches at night, is expected to keep the water safe this year.

"We have been testing the water on a weekly basis and haven't found any problems yet," Dutra said, "And we're hoping we've put enough safeguards in place that we won't have to close the lake again this year."

Already this year, boating, fishing and swimming have been enjoyed by hundreds at Lodi Lake, with an estimated 1,500 people visiting Lodi Lake Park on Sunday, which Dutra attributed to the holiday weekend, high temperatures and closures along the river.

Contact reporter Rebecca Adler at rebeccaa@lodinews.com.

First published: Tuesday, June 20, 2006

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