Memorial Day weekend serves a water safety reminder

May 28, 2011

By Staff

NEW — 8 a.m. May 28, 2011

Rivers make for inherently dangerous places to play — especially in the springtime as water flows high, swift and cold.

King County public safety officials and emergency responders stand on extra alert for spring and summer, because unusually heavy amounts of mountain snow is melting into local rivers. In addition, a tumultuous winter flood season changed river channels and reoriented logs.

The conditions create a recipe for river recreation tragedy.

“King County rivers are running fast and cold and are always extremely dangerous this time of year,” King County Sheriff Sue Rahr said in a statement. “But 2011 could bring even higher risks. We want to get the word out ahead of the Memorial Day weekend and before the next hot weather forecast that people should stay out of the rivers at this time.”

The sheriff’s office already closed a mile-long section of the Cedar River due to a hazardous river-spanning logjam. The agency and the county Department of Natural Resources and Parks stretched a banner upstream of the logs to warn people about the closure.

Christie True, Department of Natural Resources and Parks director, said several serious flooding events during the winter reshaped King County river channels, created undercut banks, and shifted and reoriented large wood and sediment.

“King County rivers are dynamic systems; the stretch of river you played on last year may be much more dangerous this year,” she said in a statement. “People should not swim in rivers, and at the very least should exercise great caution and wear a life vest when navigating or doing recreational activities on rivers.”

The snowpack in some Cascade river basins is about 200 percent of normal. The substantial snowpack could mean higher-than-normal river flows well into the summer recreational season.

Dr. David Fleming, Public Heath – Seattle & King County director, urged residents to make safer choices for activities in and around the water.

The county experiences 23 drowning deaths per year on average; 60 percent occur on open water, including rivers, lakes and Puget Sound.

“Swimming is a great way to be active, but enjoy our local lifeguarded beaches and pools,” he said in a statement. “Stay out of rivers, which can be cold, fast and deadly.”

Eastside Fire & Rescue offers tips for people to remain safe on Memorial Day weekend and all summer long:

  • If possible, swim in areas overseen by lifeguards. Children in or near water must be supervised closely by a sober, attentive adult knowledgeable of rescue techniques.
  • Stay within designated swimming areas. Swimming beyond designated areas in lakes and rivers is a large factor in the number of drowning deaths of Washington teenagers and adults. Be cautious of sudden drop-offs. Because rivers constantly move, flows can carve new channels, bring trees down into the river and create drop-offs.
  • Many rivers and lakes remain cold all summer, even if the surface feels warm. Swimming in cold water is difficult, especially if a person is tired. Hypothermia can set in quickly.
  • Know your limits and your abilities, and stop before you become too tired.
  • Weather and water conditions can change quickly. Check weather forecasts and be prepared for adverse conditions.
  • Set limits for children, such when they can go in the water, where they can go and who needs to be present. Just because they go with a group of friends does not mean they can rescue each other if someone gets into trouble.

Public Health – Seattle & King County offers additional water safety and drowning prevention information, as well as a list of lifeguarded pools.

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