Question: Will there be fun, exciting and safe whitewater rafting on the South Fork of the American River in Coloma in the 2014 season?
Answer: Yes, it is guaranteed to happen.
Question: How can that be? After all, isn’t there a drought emergency in progress?
Answer: Simply put, the reservoirs on the South Fork owned by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and PG&E are used to generate electricity, they are not primarily intended for drinking or agricultural use. Resultantly, the water in them is held back and when the time is right, flows are released to generate power. A small portion of these total flows are “time shifted” to generate power according to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) mandated schedule that allows rafters to “ride the wave” as it heads into Folsom Reservoir. The water then becomes available for use by the thirsty cities and agriculture downstream. Nothing is wasted.
Question: How can rafting happen when Folsom Lake is so low?
Answer: Folsom Lake is downstream of both the Chili Bar and Gorge rafting runs on the South Fork and the flows that rafters ride fill the lake, not empty it. Although a low Folsom Lake reflects drought conditions, it has no direct effect on rafting, nor does rafting reduce the level of the lake.
Question: So there will be no change in whitewater rafting on the South Fork due to the drought?
Answer: Just like last year, there will be a specific number of days each week when SMUD/PG&E water releases are timed to benefit recreation. The final number will be finalized on May 1st and will be based on then current reservoir levels and snow pack water content. Current information indicates 5 days: Sat, Sun, Mon, Thursday and Friday, will be raftable. Since this could change, stay tuned for details. The current wet storm pattern is a definite plus.
Question: So will the releases be large enough to be fun for whitewater rafting when they do happen?
Answer: Absolutely! Once the schedule is established, we will know which days we raft and the flows will be consistently safe and fun. The highest flows will occur on hot days in July and August when electricity demand peaks, rather than during spring runoff as often happens in a wet year.
Question: So when should I book my trip?
Answer: We are ready when you are! Thanks again to all those thousands of Mother Lode letter writers who helped make it possible to enjoy the beauty of nature and the thrill of whitewater on the South Fork of the American this season. There would likely be no rafting without them. When it comes to California Class III whitewater, the South Fork continues to be the only guaranteed game in town!
Question: What about the Class IV Middle Fork of the American?
Answer: Stay tuned.