River rafters feeling drought

By Alex MacLean / The Union Democrat

Rafting outfitters are anticipating a busy whitewater season this summer on the Tuolumne River, despite one of the worst droughts the state has experienced in decades.

Companies permitted to take groups on commercial runs down the river started their season after the U.S. Forest Service reopened Lumsden Road in mid-April. The road, which provides access to the put-in for a popular 18-mile stretch of the river, had been closed since last year's Rim Fire that burned more than 402-square-miles in the Central Sierra.

"The river and road to the river were really the first pieces of the (Stanislaus National Forest) that got reopened after the fire," said Steve Welch, general manager of ARTA River Trips. "The Forest Service recognizes the significance of it both economically to the community and as a recreational part of the forest."

And thanks to late-season storms, high country reservoirs have been able to make normal water releases that provide ideal conditions for rafting.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which owns and operates Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, is releasing water into the Tuolumne River to serve downstream water rights holders, including irrigation districts in Modesto and Turlock.

"We will have our normal summer releases now through Labor Day because of their requirements and operating parameters," Welch said.

But SFPUC isn't letting the water out just for the enjoyment of rafters.

"The water up there has to get to Don Pedro, and then Modesto and Turlock because they have water rights," Welch added. "They just time it in a convenient manner for us."

The companies need flows of about 1,100 cubic-feet per second in order to operate as normal. Right now, the flows in the Tuolumne River at the Lumsden put-in are about 1,200 to 1,500 cubic-feet per second.

For the complete story, see the May 9, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.

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