Flows on the South Yuba River will increase significantly once the dam at Lake Spaulding begins to spill as early as this week.  Due to the largest snowpack in 40 years, higher than usual runoff is expected to continue into mid-summer.   Flows on the South Yuba River below Lake Spaulding at Langs Crossing are currently about 30 cubic feet per second (cfs). With Spaulding Dam expected to spill as soon as this week, flow will increase to approximately 1,000 cfs. Typical flows in this part of the river for this time of year range from about 10 to 325 cfs.  

The South Yuba River at Bowman Lake Road bridge during a high-flow event in 2005
The South Yuba River at Bowman Lake Road bridge during a high-flow event in 2005

PG&E urges those recreating near the river to exercise caution as flows can change as temperatures fluctuate and the snowmelt slows or increases. In addition, the flows are cold due to snow melt.  

PG&E expects peak flows exceeding 2,000 cfs periodically through June with a possibility for substantially higher flows if there is a significant rain-on-snow event or multi-day heatwave accelerating snowmelt.   

With trout season mostly open in late April, anglers are especially encouraged to take precautions.  

Most California rivers are fed by snowmelt, making them cold even in summer. Simple actions can save lives, such as recognizing if the water is too cold or swift, knowing your limits, wearing a life jacket or simply by not entering the water when conditions seem unsafe.  

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 off of elevated flumes and out of these water conveyances, regardless of who owns them, as they are dangerous due to slippery sides and fast-moving cold water.  Be mindful of signs and warnings. Stay out of areas that are posted 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 can be easily overwhelmed.
  • Cold water entering the ear canal can cause vertigo and disorientation. This can confuse swimmers, potentially causing them to venture deeper into the water.
  • Cold water also reduces body heat 25 to 30 times faster than air does at the same temperature and causes impairment that can be fatal.

Learn About Self-Rescue Techniques

  • If you do fall into the water, here are some survival tips:
  • Don’t panic. Try to control your breathing; don’t gasp. A sudden, unexpected fall into cold water causes an involuntary gasp (or torso) reflex. It takes less than one-half cup of water in a person’s lungs to drown. If you remain calm, you have a greater chance of self-rescue.
  • If you have a boat, stay with it. It will help you stay afloat and will be seen more easily by rescuers. If it’s capsized and a portion of the craft is above water, try to climb on top.
  • Stay afloat with the help of a life jacket, regain control of your breathing and keep your head above water in view of rescuers.
  • If possible, remove heavy shoes. Look for ways to increase buoyancy such as by holding onto seat cushions or an ice chest.
  • If you’re in the water with others, huddle together facing each other to help everyone stay afloat and keep warm.
  • If you do fall into a river without a life jacket, 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.

Adult Supervision

  • 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.