With only a few weeks of summer remaining, locals may be tempted to hit the lakes or rivers, but the BC Coroners Service is warning residents and visitors to take extra care when engaging in water activities.
The warning comes as the Coroners Service begins investigations into eight recent tragic drownings that occurred in B.C.’s rivers and lakes.
Rivers and streams, especially in the southern Interior, are running much faster and and at higher levels than would normally be expected [at this time of year], said Barb McLintock of the BC Coroners Service.
High runoff from winter snowpack and heavy rains during the spring and early summer have also left many rivers, streams and lakes with much higher water levels, she added.
“Touring the Interior region of the province recently, I have never seen such high water levels and flow rates at this time of year,” said Chris Duffy, executive director for Emergency Management BC.
To prevent further loss of life, experts are warning locals and visitors about activities such as rafting, tubing and canoeing, which may currently have a higher risk than otherwise expected.
Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said visitors are at particularly high risk because they do not recognize that local waters are likely to be more hazardous than those in other parts of Canada or the world – the water is colder, lakes have steep drop-offs, and there can be unexpected underwater debris.
A summary of findings compiled by the BC Coroners Service related to accidental drowning deaths from 2006-2010 revealed that the highest proportion of these deaths occurred in the southern Interior region.
A total of 404 accidental drownings occurred in B.C. during this five-year period (an average of 80 per year), three of which took place in the Nicola Valley area. These included a man who drowned while paddle-boating in Kentucky Lake in 2007, another man who died when the excavator he was working on at the Craigmont Mine fell into a pit of water in 2008, and a lady who drowned while swimming in a pond in 2010.
In an email to the Merritt Herald, McLintock also noted a more recent incident where a man fell from a boat while fishing near Logan Lake and drowned in July.
These statistics also indicate that five out of six of those who drowned were male and that alcohol or drugs were contributing factors in 42 per cent of the overall deaths.
“Alcohol and water-related activities do not mix, any more than alcohol and driving do,” said McLintock. “Alcohol impairs your co-ordination and judgement, and this substantially adds to the risk inherent in swimming or boating.”
Almost one third of the deaths from 2006 to 2010 occurred during July and August and the three most common activities involved in accidental drowning were swimming, motor boating and canoeing or kayaking.
The BC Coroners Service recommends always wearing a properly fitting Personal Floatation Device, always supervising children, never diving into unknown waters, and checking weather conditions before visiting an area.