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.”


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11 Comments

  1. maybe not says:

    The link [The Bakersfield Californian] in the above article says a 15th person is missing and presumed drowned. Sometimes reading is more useful than “doin’ the math.”

    (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
    • Cindy says:

      but the math was fun……and besides, it would take two drownings to meet the criteria required to “SURPASS ” triple digits. Quit being so picky, there isn’t enough room for 3 “pickers” around here ;)

      (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  2. whoowhoo says:

    “Heavy Flows”… sounds like that time of the month. Scares me off right away.

    (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down
  3. azuresees says:

    Bottom line: You play, you pay….The poster who said the water always wins is 100% right. Drink a “couple” of beers, show off to your friends…Go for it…Will read how you were “loved by all; Loved his BBQ’s…Was such a good coach, etc.” ……AMF…

    (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  4. Cindy says:

    You’re sure right, in order for the current casualties to surpass the 2009 drowning’s by triple digits ,there would have to be an exact 100% increase of deaths this year as compared to last year.

    Hummm, statements that report more than “triple the drownings” does sensationalize the safety issues and afterall, they only errored by two lives, I wonder if their looking to drum up support to expand their staff?

    (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
  5. easymoney says:

    All rivers in Ca are running at or above capacity for this time of year becuase ofr the record snows.
    Simple rules to keep you alive: Do not cross them, Do not swim without a PFD, Do not use an inner tude or floaty, Do not drink and go near the water and lastly USE YOUR HEAD…

    (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
    • pasoparent5 says:

      Yep. Another rule: OBEY THE POSTED WARNING SIGNS! This incident–like the Yosemite one a few weeks ago–were entirely avoidable. Folks get in that fast-moving water thinking “I’ll be fine!” and they forget that the water always wins. Always.

      (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
      • easymoney says:

        Excellent point…
        IMHO, this will be a record year for drownings and outdoor related injuries or deaths.
        The deaths in Yosemite were completely preventable and entirely due to operator error…

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  6. tj says:

    “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 math in that sentence doesn’t add up…The math in that sentence doesn’t add up….a 75% increase is 14 which is less, not more, than “triple the 5 lives lost in 2009.”..

    In any case, the hydraulics of a river change all the time and a larger than normal flow can change a familiar, safe river experience into one that is deadly. Never take safety on moving water for granted.

    (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down
    • LittleAcorn says:

      I agree that people need to know that the current flow rate of the Kern River is very deadly. It’s sad that peoples’ recreation time turns to tragedy.

      However, I particularly don’t care for using percentages for low numbers. To me it seems more clear to state the numbers themselves.

      (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down

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