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Shallower Russian River still the place for summer fun

  • 5/14/2014:B1: Santa Rosa resident Alexander Oceguera talks with, from left, Kelsey Merian of Windsor, Roxanne Zettler of Point Arena and Christina Mertensotto of Santa Rosa in the drought-depleted Russian River on Tuesday at Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach.PC: Santa Rosa resident Alexander Oceguera talks with, from left, clockwise Kelsey Merian of Windsor, Roxanne Zettler of Point Arena and Christina Mertensotto of Santa Rosa in a drought ravaged Russian River, Tuesday May 13, 2014 at Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

It may be the third year of a calamitous drought, but fun-seekers along the North Coast can still get their wet fix.

The good news for recreational users of the Russian River is that the Sonoma County Water Agency last week declared conditions on the upper river "dry" instead of "critical," triggering an increase in water flows.

That means that while there may still be a lot more dry beach along the Russian River than in normal years, there still should be enough water to take a dip or float a kayak or canoe, said Sonoma County Regional Parks manager Bert Whitaker.

"It's mostly shallow, with 3 to 4 feet of water. But there are still a lot of areas along the beach to enjoy and relatively narrow spots to wade," he said. "There will be a few spots you could swim in, but mostly, for adults, it's standing."

Still, the fact that the river will continue to run is cause for boaters to rejoice.

"We're very pleased the Water Agency had the foresight to manage the river in a way where we could have water this summer," said a relieved Lolly Mercer, owner of River's Edge Kayak and Canoe Trips, whose treks cover some 30 miles upriver from Healdsburg.

"Even in more normal conditions, our clients always have to get out a few times for sandbars," she added. "That's what makes it fun. You have to navigate and negotiate your way down."

Linda Burke, owner of Burke's Canoes in Forestville, said boaters can still expect their share of surprises along with schlepping over sandbars and shallow patches.

"Because of the nature of any river, including this one, you will encounter various depths of water as you travel along," she said. "It will range from ankle-deep to waist-deep to neck-deep to way over anybody's head, and that will be the case this year as in every year.

"Based on all the experts I've talked with, our part of the river from Forestville to Guerneville will have adequate flows all summer long," she said.


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