Water Levels, Safety Concerns High At Russian River Memorial Day Weekend

HEALDSBURG (KPIX 5) — The Russian River is expected to be packed with people on Memorial Day weekend.

Businesses are looking forward to it after years of drought. People returning here to recreate, might find it is a different river.

The season doesn’t officially open until this weekend but Larry Laba and his crew at Russian River Adventures has been busy for weeks, remarking waterways and planning their routes.

Larry has operated the rafting company for years, but this year, it’s a brand new river.

“There’s little islands in the river that never existed, one of our favorite gravel bars where we used to swim, most of it is gone. Now we’re going to stop and swim about three or 400 yards further downstream in a place we never stopped to swim before because now there’s a new gravel bar,” says Laba.

This winter’s storms basically reconstructed the Russian River’s bed. They also filled the reservoirs that feed it.

To keep levels safe in the lakes, flows have, at times, been as high as twice the normal.

Russian River Adventures usually starts their season in mid-April. This year they are starting Memorial Day weekend because water levels were so high they didn’t think they were safe for customers.

Sonoma County Parks has taken precautions as well. They have a program handing out life jackets at their most popular beaches, and their rescue personnel are already deep into training.

“It’s not the same river year in and year out, this year there are higher flows so if you do step in somewhere, it might not be that same floating rate that you had last year, it might flow faster,” says David Robinson, who works there.

This year’s warm temperatures are sure to draw plenty to the water and on the water.

While navigating it might be different, as long as all are cautious and aware, it should also be exciting.

“Be aware that that there’s changed conditions, be aware of your surroundings, and take precautions to be safe,” says Robinson.

Laba says, “All through the summer we’re gonna have great water levels for people who want to come out and recreate and paddle on the river.”

So to make sure that you’re safe wear a life vest, keep an eye on the kids, and if you’re still feeling nervous, go to Healdsburg where you can swim under the watch of a lifeguard.

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