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Why Sacramento waterways pose risks to swimmers with unofficial start to summer

Sacramento waterways pose risks to swimmers this Memorial Day. Here's why.
Sacramento waterways pose risks to swimmers this Memorial Day. Here's why. 02:56

SACRAMENTO — Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer, but Sacramento-area waterways are posing dangerous and even deadly conditions for some swimmers.

A 21-year-old swimmer struggled and went under at Woodward Reservoir in Oakdale on Sunday. The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office spent hours searching for his body and later recovered it.

"We tell them 'You have to have a life jacket,' " said Kennith Anderson, who works at T&K's Jet Ski Rentals out of Modesto. "We don't care if you're a good swimmer."

Anderson rents jet skis out on the reservoir that has taken the lives of two swimmers so far this season.

"It doesn't matter the age. It doesn't matter who, even if you're just at the shoreline," he said.

There may not be strong currents at reservoirs, but submerged trees and cold water temperatures could create hazards.

Similar dangers exist on rivers.

"It doesn't really look like it's moving really fast, but it is," said Sergeant Marc Piazza, with Sacramento County Regional Parks.

The El Manto area in Rancho Cordova is one of the roughest spots along the American River, and the area even turned deadly two summers ago. That is why extra park rangers were patrolling this Memorial Day Weekend, both on the land and with boats in the water.

According to Sgt. Piazza, the water there is rushing at around 36 cubic feet per second. It is this combined with cold waters from the Sierra snow melt that makes it a struggle for even the strongest swimmers.

"With [the water level] being so high, there are tree stumps underneath that you can't see," Sgt. Piazza said.

That is one of the reasons why Dan Walbert's family spent the holiday cooling off at Elk Grove's Aquatic Center on opening weekend. It makes him feel safer not having to have his kids in life jackets.

"Nobody on my team can swim yet, so it was a big deal to have them in and around water without having to have water wings or do the full pool experience," he said.

Before getting into any body of water, whether a river or reservoir, park rangers recommend people put on a life jacket and go in with a plan to preserve their own life and others.

Sgt. Piazza said first responders have made about five rescues along the American River since the start of May, mostly people in their rafts getting stuck in tree branches.

Life jackets are required for anyone under 13, but park rangers said it is wise for everyone to wear one.

There are free life jackets available to borrow at various locations along rivers in the area. See locations here.

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