Our Voice: Be safe and smart around water this season

March 27, 2014 

Nature teases us with a warm day sprinkled amid the cool and windy ones, but all too soon it will be hot -- and people will be in and on our water.

Now is the perfect time for a reminder about water safety.

We are fortunate to be surrounded by water and lots of good swimming places, but we also have plenty of water that is not suitable for swimming.

Irrigation ditches and canals immediately come to mind as bad places to swim or wade. The open canals are tempting, even inviting. But they can be deadly, even when the water is shallow.

Reminders on the Kennewick Irrigation District's website warn that fast-moving water can knock you off your feet even if it's only a foot deep. Swift undercurrents and turbulence can drag you under and keep you there, even if you are an excellent swimmer.

Irrigation canals are designed to move water. The banks are steep and made of concrete or lined -- nearly impossible to climb out of. The best prevention is to stay out of them.

Another reminder on KID's page warns about drowning dangers associated with farm ponds, slurry storage and water-filled pits.

All can be hazardous.

Of course, the best preventions against drowning are: Learn to swim, swim only in approved places and wear a life vest when appropriate.

We can't overemphasize the need for a life jacket when you are out on the river, even if you're an experienced, capable and strong swimmer. There is always a possibility of something unexpected.

The Tri-City Herald archives are peppered with stories of people who were playing in the river in areas not designated for swimming and suddenly went under water.

Every year that list gets a little longer.

Some of the people knew how to swim and were caught in an undertow or panic-stricken by an encounter with water foliage. Others were nonswimmers, but they were holding onto a flotation device or staying where they could touch the bottom. One 13-year-old boy was last seen playing on the shoreline of Casey Pond in Burbank before he went missing.

You can't be too careful.

One of our past stories gave these statistics. Surprisingly, in the Tri-Cities adults are more likely to drown than children, but drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 and the second leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 14.

In that same story, Mark Allen, a former longtime dive rescue member, said in all his time responding to drowning calls, he never had a victim who was wearing a properly fitted life jacket.

Bottom line: Be smart.

Enjoy our water this year -- safely. The river and other waterways demand respect. A few rules and precautions around the water will make for a safe and fun summer.

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