Increase in Kern River drownings due to heavy flows
August 8, 2011
The number of confirmed deaths on the Kern River this season has jumped 75 percent from the eight drownings recorded last year, and more than triple the five lives lost in 2009. [The Bakersfield Californian]
This year’s heavy winter and spring snows on the Kern River watershed have turned the upper Kern into a roaring cataclysm that even commercial rafting companies and rescuers have at times refused to enter.
On July 8, Derrick Rush, 28, of Arroyo Grande went missing after falling into the river while floating on an inner tube. His body was recovered days later on the bank of a campsite, ending a weeklong search by friends.
The heavy flows have filled Isabella Lake to the maximum the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will allow — forcing big releases into the lower Kern.
On July 2 of this year — a day the Kern claimed two victims — the river averaged a flow of 3,959 cubic feet per second, meaning almost 30,000 gallons of water passed a given point every second. That was more than twice as fast as the same day in 2009, the most recent low water year, and almost 1.5 times as fast as the rate from July 2, 2010.
The illusion of calm water on both sections of the river hides flows that have snatched people from rafts, snapped ropes and sucked swimmers downriver into deadly rapids.
“It’s not like the ocean,” said Kern Valley Search and Rescue Volunteer Capt. Brian Baskin. “The river is relentless.”