Clackamas County encourages water safety as temperatures rise this weekend
Hundreds of people are expected to head for rivers and lakes over the next several days as temperatures approach or exceed 90 degrees. But the Clackamas County Sheriffs Office says the water in area rivers can be especially dangerous this time of the year, and officials are urging visitors to parks and waterways to be careful.
Despite the warm temperatures, the water in the Clackamas and Sandy rivers is still dangerously cold and can pose a threat to swimmers, said Clackamas County Parks and Forest Manager Rick Gruen. Underestimating the coldness of the water and the swift currents can place even the most experienced swimmer in serious jeopardy.
All river users should come prepared with personal flotation devices that should be worn at all times while on the water, officials said. Swimmers are strongly advised to wear a life jacket, and state boating regulations require all boats to carry at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for every person on board. All children age 12 and under must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times while on boats. And "boats" means every type of watercraft, including sailboats, canoes, kayaks and rafts.
Deputies with the Clackamas County Sheriffs Office Marine Unit will enforce all boating laws this weekend; boaters and people on rafts caught without a life jacket face fines of up to $260, and another $110 fine for not having whistles.
Drowning in a river is almost always a preventable tragedy, said Lt. Robert Wurpes, who supervises the water rescue units for the Sheriffs Office. The best practice is to wear a life jacket, which can save swimmers who can quickly be overcome by cold, exhaustion, fear and injury.
Wurpes shared these river safety tips:
Wear a life jacket;
Have a whistle or noisemaker, in case you need to call for help;
Dont swim alone;
Be aware of low river levels and branches and other objects just below the surface;
Dont dive into water unless you are sure of the depth;
Dont leave children unattended in or near the water;
Know your limits and dont overexert yourself;
Dont drink alcohol during water activities, including swimming and boating.
This will be the second full summer that the countys amended ordinance allowing deputies to inspect personal items for alcohol in county parks will be in effect. Alcohol is only allowed with a permit in designated areas. People who refuse the inspections will be asked to leave the park.
The natural environment of being on the river and in the hot sun causes its own kind of impairment, said Tiffany Hicks, a drug and alcohol prevention planner for the countys Health, Housing, and Human Services Department. When alcohol is added it enhances impairment and people feel intoxicated much quicker.
In 2014, alcohol-related citations in Barton Park increased by 39 percent from the previous year and 387 percent at the Carver Boat Ramp specifically. In 2013, Clackamas County Commissioners approved funding to place additional deputies at the parks, which has led to an increase in officer-initiated investigations and a decrease in calls for help.
To learn about the county parks alcohol ban and other rules, visit www.clackamas.us/parks. For more information, contact Nate Thompson at 503-785-5179.