California snowmelt prompting warnings for swimmers | SierraSun.com

California snowmelt prompting warnings for swimmers

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO and#8212; This year’s formidable Sierra snowpack has brought good news to California farmers and cities that have endured years of drought.

But all that melting snow could create hazardous conditions in rivers and streams this spring and summer, officials warn.

The Kings River in Tulare County was closed last month to recreational users after potentially dangerous conditions developed. That closure will likely continue until the end of May, Neil Pilegard, Tulare County parks manager, told the Fresno Bee.

In Yosemite National Park, where winter snows are likely to delay the opening of a major road, the Merced River is expected to be unusually high and fast-moving, according to park officials.

Rivers, streams and reservoirs throughout Northern California are also likely to be colder than usual, state officials say.

“Respect the water, because it can take you away just like that,” Fresno County Sheriff’s spokesman Chris Curtice told the Bee.

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Last year, 21 people died in waterways in Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings counties. That’s more than twice as many as in 2009, according to the Bee.

The final snow survey of the season earlier this month found the water content in the snowpack was 144 percent of normal, keeping the state on track to provide 80 percent of the water requested by its contractors. The snowpack supplies 25 million California residents and almost a million acres of farmland.

This year’s water allocation is the highest since 2006, when water contractors received 100 percent of their requested amount, and reflects the wettest winter and spring since 1995.

The rain and snow ended a three-year drought declared by the administration of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Last month, major reservoirs in the state, including Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, released water after reaching capacity to make way for additional inflows this season, said Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources.

He said flooding so far has not been a major concern, “but it is something we’re cautious about and will continue to monitor into the summer months.”