Friday, May 30, 2014

More water this summer for American River kayaking

San Juan rapids will continue to provide good paddling through June 
6/25 update: Lower American flows still holding at about 2,000cfs this week.  

In the midst of an epic drought, here’s some good news for kayakers. The lower American River, one of the most popular waterways in Northern California, is now running at about 2,000 cubic feet per second – and should continue to do so through June. That translates to decent water for paddlers.

Responding to a NorCal Yak query, the federal Bureau of Reclamation confirmed that recent, higher flows will continue based on water quality needs in the Delta. (Read: excessive salinity.) So paddlers downstream from the river will benefit, too. And even in July and
August, flows may stay above 1,500. Only a few weeks ago, flows were down to 500 cfs and there were places you could walk across the river.

Of course, as the Reclam folks acknowledge, California water is like a liquid Rubik’s Cube that tries to sync needs for the environment, the economy, and recreation. Someone or
something usually comes out on the short end of the water gauge. In this case, I’m guessing  big powerboat traffic on Folsom Lake may soon be sputtering.

A couple of recent kayaking runs from Sacramento County’s Sunrise Park to a pullout at Rossmoor Bar, less than four miles downstream, was encouraging. The river was then running at about 1,770 cfs. It took only a little care to avoid the shallows. But there are always obstacles to watch out for, as one rafting family recently learned in a harrowing incident.

In addition to the San Juan rapids, there are a couple of other decent spots to practice kayak maneuvering in small rapids and eddies on this short stretch. Ideal for beginner and low intermediates, sure, but paddling with at least one buddy is always recommended.

Anybody got a shoehorn?

Of course, higher water flows will also attract more rafters, and especially UFOs – Unsteerable Floating Objects, also known as “party floats.” These “craft” were meant for backyard pools, but lately, they’re showing up on the river in greater numbers. Inflated up to 10-12 feet wide and loaded up with revelers who are also loaded, these “craft” can be as hazardous as they are obnoxious.  (Note: Alcohol is banned on holiday weekends and whenever park rangers detect a pending “river swarm” on social media.)

The best advice to avoid them? Get on and off the river early – before 1 p.m. – on weekends, and better yet, on a weekday morning. On two recent mornings, large egrets and blue herrons swirled and danced in the air close to our boats. Except for floating litter -- c’mon folks, with rafts that big you can take it with you -- kayakers would never know they are minutes away from suburb and hubbub.


Sacramento County Parks charge an extra $3 per boat, including kayaks. (Annual passes available.) Parks without staffed kiosks tend to have more vehicle break-in's -- but wherever you leave the car, take all valuables with you. 

© Glenn Brank 2014