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An Important Year for Water Safety!

Image of Margo KerriganMargo Kerrigan, M.P.H., Area Director
Indian Health Service California Area Office

Summer is here and many of you will be enjoying outdoor water activities. I encourage you to get out and "JUST MOVE IT". Stay safe and be aware that snowmelt this year is creating heavy river flows and lower water temperatures.

The California Department of Boating and Waterways, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and California State Parks are warning outdoor recreationists to take precautions this summer. This year's abundant snowfall and spring snowmelt have resulted in swift and cold river flows that can create treacherous conditions for waders, swimmers, paddlers, boaters, anglers and even hikers cooling off at the water's edge. The water content of California's mountain snowpack was at 163 percent of normal as of April 1 - the highest since 1995. As warmer weather and longer days begin melting snow in mountainous regions, water temperatures will continue to drop and water will continue to rise in waterways and reservoirs.

Alvin Thoma, Director of PG&E's Power Generation Department warned, "Those planning outings near mountain streams, rivers and reservoirs need to be extra vigilant and take appropriate safety measures. Water flows will fluctuate with the warming and cooling of the day so always be prepared for a change in conditions." Lucia C. Becerra, Acting Director of Boating and Waterways, cautioned that even experienced swimmers can get caught in swift river flows. Stay safe by checking local conditions before taking a boating trip, always wear a life jacket on waterways, and avoid alcohol when enjoying outdoor water activities. River and other waterway conditions can be checked online at http://cdec.water.ca.gov/river/rivcond.html Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov. Please review the water safety tips below, as it could save your life or the life of a loved one.

Water safety tips

Know your body and its limits

  • Cold water causes impairment leading to fatalities. It reduces body heat 25-30 times faster than air does at the same temperature.
  • Sudden immersion in cold water can stimulate the "gasp reflex" causing an involuntary inhalation of air or water, and can even trigger cardiac arrest, temporary paralysis, hypothermia and drowning.
  • Cold water entering a swimmer's ear canal can cause vertigo and disorientation. This may confuse swimmers, causing them to venture deeper into the water.
  • Swimming in open water is more difficult than in a swimming pool so people tire more quickly.

    Wear a life jacket

  • Conditions change quickly in open water and even the best swimmers can misjudge the water and their skills when boating or swimming. Unseen obstacles below the water's surface make swimming in swift water even more treacherous. Wearing a life jacket will increase your chance of survival.
  • A life jacket can provide some thermal protection against the onset of hypothermia and keep you afloat until someone can rescue you.

    Educate and supervise children

  • Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death among children ages 1 to 14. Actively supervise children in and around open bodies of water, giving them your undivided attention. Appoint a designated "water watcher," taking turns with other adults.
  • Teach children that swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in a pool: they need to be aware of uneven surfaces, river currents, ocean undertow and changing weather.

    Know the law

  • A 2010 boating law states that children under age 13 must wear a life jacket when on a moving vessel that is 26 feet or less in length.
  • Every person on board a personal watercraft (popularly known as "jet skis") and any person being towed behind a vessel must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
  • It is against the law to operate a boat or water ski with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. You can be arrested even when your BAC is less than 0.08 percent if conditions are deemed to be unsafe.
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