Editorial: Our rivers don't have to be deadly

Published: Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2013 - 8:15 am

Summer doesn't start for more than two weeks, but temperatures are rising, the cool waters of area rivers and lakes are beckoning – and, unfortunately, young people are already drowning.

The tragic truth is that many of these deaths are preventable.

That's why Matt Weiser's report in Monday's Bee was so disconcerting. On Saturday, a 16-year-old boy apparently drowned at Sand Cove Park, a popular but dangerous spot on the Sacramento River off Garden Highway. Sunday, when Weiser went there, he found that the vast majority of children wading or swimming were not using any kind of life preserver.

At many riverfront parks in Sacramento, life jackets are available to borrow for free, provided by Sacramento's volunteer Drowning Accident Rescue Team and other groups.

The loaners are not at Sand Cove Park, however. That oversight needs to be remedied quickly.

According to city and county ordinances, it's a misdemeanor – carrying a fine of as much as $500 – for parents or guardians to let a child under 13 swim in public waters without a life preserver. Enforcement, however, is not strict and has suffered as tight budgets cut park rangers and other officers.

Each May is Drowning Prevention Month in California, but as safety advocates say, it should be every month. In 2011, 58 California children 5 and under drowned, 30 of them in swimming pools, according to state figures.

Older people can also easily succumb to strong currents and the effects of cold water. Over one weekend last month, a 23-year-old man from Rancho Cordova and a 25-year-old from Elk Grove drowned in separate incidents on the American River.

These drownings likely won't be the last this summer. Several years back, a Sacramento fire battalion chief looked at records going back nearly four decades and found that an average of six people a year drowned in the Sacramento and American rivers. Sand Cove Park was one of the three most dangerous areas, along with the Howe Avenue boat launch and Tiscornia Beach at the confluence of the two rivers, according to the analysis.

One of the great attractions of living here is enjoying the weather with bountiful water recreation opportunities. There's no reason fun in the sun can't also be safe.

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