SAN FRANCISCO —With the exceptional California snowpack melting as temperatures rise, rivers and streams are full of dangerously cold and swift moving water this spring.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) encourages water enthusiasts to take extra precautions when in or near rivers, especially around hydroelectric facilities and dams, where water flows can change rapidly. Anglers are also encouraged to take precautions as trout season opens April 27 for most California rivers.
California’s snowpack measured 175 percent of normal in early April, ensuring cold runoff well into summer.
“Public safety is our highest priority. We encourage everyone recreating in or near water to know at all times how they can quickly get out or away. Put safety first, especially while outdoors,” said Debbie Powell, PG&E’s vice president of power generation.
Most California rivers are fed by snowmelt, making them cold even in summer. Simple actions such as knowing if the water is too cold or swift, knowing your limits, wearing a life jacket or simply not entering the water when conditions are deemed unsafe can save a life.
Below are some water safety tips:
Stay Out and Stay Alive – Stay Out of Canals and Flumes
Recreating in PG&E canals and flumes is strictly prohibited. Stay out of these water conveyances, regardless of who owns them, as they are very dangerous due to slippery sides and fast-moving cold water. For a number of reasons, not all areas are open for recreation. Keep out of canals and off elevated flumes. Be mindful of signs and warnings. Stay out of areas that are signed as restricted, fenced off or buoy lined.
Know the Risks
Prevention is the best way to save a person from drowning. By the time a person is struggling in the water, a rescue is extremely unlikely and places the rescuer at risk.
Sudden immersion in cold water can stimulate the “gasp reflex,” causing an involuntary inhalation of air or water. It can even trigger cardiac arrest, temporary paralysis, hypothermia, and drowning. When faced with swift water, even the strongest swimmers may be easily overwhelmed.
Cold water also reduces body heat 25 to 30 times faster than air does at the same temperature and causes impairment that can lead to fatalities.
Learn About Self-Rescue Techniques
If you do fall into the water, here are some survival tips:
Don’t panic. Do control breathing, don’t gasp. A sudden unexpected fall into cold water causes an involuntary gasp (or torso) reflex. It takes less than ½ cup of water in a person’s lungs to drown. When someone remains calm, they have a greater chance of self-rescue.
Stay with your boat. It will help you stay afloat and will be seen more easily by rescuers. If it’s capsized, try to climb on top.
Stay afloat with the help of a life jacket, regain control of breathing, and keep head above water in view of rescuers.
If possible, remove heavy shoes. Look for ways to increase buoyancy such as seat cushions or an ice chest.
If you’re in the water with others, huddle together facing towards each other to help everyone stay afloat and keep warm.
If you do fall into a river without a life jacket on, keep your feet pointed downstream and turn onto your back.
If you fall into the water with waders on, roll onto the shore. Wear a belt with waders.
Know your Limits
Swimming in open water is more difficult than in a swimming pool – people tire more quickly and can get into trouble.
Many unseen obstacles can be lurking below the water’s surface – this is especially the case during spring and early summer snowmelt. Rising water can make these obstacles even more treacherous. Guided trips for inexperienced paddlers are recommended.
Wear a Coast Guard-approved Life Jacket
Conditions change quickly in open water and even the best swimmers can misjudge the water and their skills when boating or swimming.
Actively supervise children in and around open bodies of water, giving them your undivided attention. Do not assume that someone is watching them. Appoint a designated “water watcher,” taking turns with other adults. Use the buddy system and never swim alone.