Valley Voices

Contrary to what sheriff thinks, the Kings River is safe now for summer recreation

Rodrigo Borja, 7, of Dinuba, jumps off a raft while playing in the water at Reedley Beach in 2015. The river is currently closed by order of the sheriff.
Rodrigo Borja, 7, of Dinuba, jumps off a raft while playing in the water at Reedley Beach in 2015. The river is currently closed by order of the sheriff. Fresno Bee file

The Kings River below Pine Flat Dam has been arbitrarily closed by the Sheriff’s Office since release levels went to 10,000 cubic feet per second several weeks ago. Now (July 2) the releases are below 7,500 cfs, well within the normal summer channel, at a level that has never been shut before. Where I live, north of Reedley, that is a drop of about 10 feet, not even remotely a “flood” release.

It is a tragedy if anyone drowns, but the river is always dangerous, whether it’s three feet deep or 10. The sheriff’s patrol boats are a welcome resource and they help out a lot of people who intend to have fun on the river and find themselves in trouble. But for decades, there was no regularly scheduled aheriff’s patrol on the river. Tens of thousands of rafters, tubers, kayakers, and boaters enjoyed the river at all levels, and I would contend that, statistically speaking, there were no more drownings per season in those days than in more recent years, when the Sheriff’s Office decided that it was in charge of how safe it needs to be.

Fred Smeds traveled to Cuba with a group called Food First. JOHN WALKER/file Fresno Bee file

I would further challenge the sheriff to come up with any correlation between high water levels and the number of drownings, specifically from Annadale or Goodfellow avenues down to Reedley Beach, (or any instances of rafters drowning, at whatever levels, for that matter) along that stretch of river where virtually all of the floating happens, and which is quite different than the somewhat wilder waters from the dam on down to Annadale, which is more suited to kayakers and white-water rafting — and should be open for such use, at their own risk.

There are no rapids from Goodfellow to Reedley Beach. You can certainly get swept into the brush, which happens often enough, and anybody floating has to be alert and able to do a bit of paddling to keep midstream. But there are no more so-called “strainers” during high water than when it is low. Come for a ride with me at low levels and I will show you where shoals and cobble islands emerge that split the current and can force rafts straight toward the brush. At high levels, in fact, the current is unaffected by those shoals, and actually serves to help you stay midstream.

Another reported “safety factor” is how cold the water is right now. The water temperature in the lower Kings is cold year round, within about 55 to 60 degrees.

Again, you can always get in trouble, and I often give boat rides to shocked rafters who have gotten into the brush and had their ice chests and picnic baskets overturned and swept away. They are hungry and cold and chastened, mostly barefoot, trying to walk through puncture vines and farm fields, not realizing how far it is to a paved road like Reed or Lac Jac avenues, and they are warming up quickly, at say, 105 degrees, but they are not drowned. The river teaches lessons constantly, and impartially.

If the sheriff thinks the river below Annadale is still too dangerous to open now, then I submit it is always too dangerous, and she should say it is closed altogether, but let’s see if there’s any kind of statistics to back her up.

Fred Smeds lives in Reedley.