Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kayaker water bottle half empty or half full?

The 2011 paddling season really spoiled Northern California kayakers. Deep snowpack and extended runoff meant you could go almost anywhere and enjoy high water throughout the summer. The outlook for 2012? Not so good. Much of the state has experienced very dry, unseasonably warm weather all winter. 

Salmon Falls Bridge above Folsom Lake in February...
...and on the water near the same spot last August
At the same time, reservoir carry-over from last season will help keep many lakes and rivers up to paddle-worthy levels, at least early in the year. But you may need to plan on taking that trip a bit earlier, and consider other paddling options as well.

NorCal Yak checked in with a couple of veteran state water experts to get some tips for paddlers. Maury Roos, chief hydrologist with the California Department of Water Resources, has watched ebb and flow for more than 50 years. Even if we get some late precip, 2012 could rival some dry years dating back at least a decade, Roos said. At the same time, “Statewide water storage still stands at 110 percent of average, thanks to carry-over.”

Roos suggested that paddlers might focus on “natural flow” (undammed) waters – such as Lake Tahoe. It’s still about two-thirds full, about 148 percent of average, and should be in good shape this season, he said. Plus Tahoe runoff will help the Truckee River. (See NorCal Yak posts on Lake Tahoe.)

Another veteran state hydrologist, Earle Cummings, paddles a canoe. “I live close to Lake Sonoma, so I follow the Russian (River) pretty closely, and with both reservoirs in the system having good carry-over storage, it will be good for the summer, but it won't be very exciting for kayakers.” After consulting some flow data, Cummings suggested  heading up north to places like Del Norte County and the Smith River  – “Put in at or around Dr. Fine Bridge. Beautiful water…almost normal seasonal flow.” (At one point in January, the Smith rose to less than a foot below flood stage -- another reason to always do your homework, even in a "dry" year. August and September are said to be good months for paddling on the Smith.)

Rat Rock at China Camp State Park, on San Pablo Bay
When it comes to tracking water conditions, every whitewater paddler knows Dreamflows, and this site can also help us flat water folk. Other online sources that may be of interest, courtesy of the California Department of Water Resources, include the latest snow survey plus reservoir conditions in a nice graphic format.

Mild winter weather has also made coastal paddling attractive this year – check NorCal Yak posts on  Monterey, and Elkhorn Slough, as well as Tomales BaySausalito  and China Camp State Park