Merced County authorities warn swimmers could foot costly bill for river rescue

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The rushing water of the Merced River is cold, fast, and high and that's why Merced County Sheriff's deputies are warning people to stay out of it as temperatures rise into the triple digits. (KFSN)

The rushing water of the Merced River is cold, fast, and high and that's why Merced County Sheriff's deputies are warning people to stay out of it as temperatures rise into the triple digits.

"It's not that I want to prevent people from having fun, I just want to prevent people from having the need to call us," Sheriff Vern Warnke explained.

Warnke has repeatedly warned people about getting into the river, but they've already had one person drown near Hagaman Park this season.

On Monday, deputies also saved four rafters after they were stuck on the trees near Henderson Park in Snelling. Warnke says that rescue racked up almost $4,000 in associated costs and your next swim in the Merced River could end up costing you.

"You know the rivers are dangerous, and you require rescue out of it when you purposefully go into it," Warnke said. "You have the potential that you're going to see a bill."

Mitch Whitehead, a caretaker at Henderson Park, says he's been advising people not to swim in the river and giving them alternative ideas on where to cool off.

"I don't want to see anybody drown in my park, especially if it's a kid," he said. "So we try to warn them as much as possible."

Merced Irrigation District officials say that about 3,000 to 4,000 cubic feet per second of water is being released from exchequer and is forcefully flowing down the Merced River.

"We're talking 3,000/4,000 cubic feet per second, think of 3,000 to 4,000 basketballs at one second," Mike Jensen explained.

Signs are posted throughout Henderson and Hagaman Park advising people not to swim. The sheriff's department is currently understaffed, but Warnke says the dive team is on call in case anything happens.

"There will probably be a couple flights made over the Merced River to make a determination of who's in the water," he said.

Warnke says he doesn't expect the water levels of the river to go down until the fall. In the meantime, he asks people to find a safer place to cool off.

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