Clare Harris read a history book about Israel and napped Tuesday inside the deserted beer and snack shack at the Guerneville beach that's been in his family since 1967.
Natalie Cole's rendition of the song "Unforgettable" played over a radio, the music interrupted by the occasional psst-psst of an air compressor. Outside the shack, an employee of Harris' inflated more than 100 inner tubes for the coming Memorial Day weekend.
"It's good to have a beach. We're a resort town," said Harris, 94.
Harris has a few more days to relax before Johnson's Beach and other Russian River hot spots fill up with beach-goers, boaters and swimmers. The good news: There appears to be enough water in the river for people to get their fun on.
"It's going to be perfect for canoeing and for the fish," said Brad Sherwood, a spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency.
The unofficial holiday kickoff to summer arrives, however, as government officials, growers and others scramble to deal with historic drought conditions.
Less supply in Russian River system has regulators preparing to limit diversions by agricultural users above Healdsburg and into Mendocino County for the first time since 1977. The conditions already led to a fishing ban on the river earlier this year, and curtailed some events, including the May 3 Great Russian River Race in Healdsburg.
Oregon resident Stephanie Kabella looked out at the river near Johnson's Beach Tuesday and said it looked "sad" to her because the water appeared to be so shallow.
But Sherwood insisted that the lower river is flowing as much as it has in recent years.
"We're looking at the same conditions that we faced the last two summers, in terms of flow on the river," he said.
Granted, that period covers three consecutive years of drought. What Kabella and her partner, Noel Thomas, witnessed at Johnson's Beach Tuesday may be the river's new normal, at least until drought conditions ease.
The Water Agency began inflating a seasonal dam Tuesday on the river near Forestville to help protect drinking water supplies for 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties. The dam creates a small pool of water, which the agency draws upon for four off-stream infiltration ponds that serve the water supply system.
Sherwood said the dam will not be inflated as high this year as in recent years to ensure that there is enough velocity to support downstream fish monitoring. Boaters who approach the dam have to carry their vessels out of the water and around the manmade impediment.
Because of the shallow depth at Johnson's Beach, people who rent kayaks there will be limited to using the vessels roughly along the property's length, about 800 feet, Harris said. But he said that's not unusual for this time of year. A removable dam that is to be installed in the river at Johnson's Beach on June 15 should deepen the water an additional five feet and give boaters more room to roam.
Harris said he expects upwards of 2,400 daily visitors to the beach this weekend, which also would be normal for this time of year. The beach was closed Tuesday to give employees time to prepare for the onslaught.
Janet Slyter of Santa Rosa was virtually alone sunbathing on the beach Tuesday, aside from an inquisitive duck that waddled over.