WALLA WALLA, Wash. – The upcoming Independence Day weekend offers numerous opportunities for outdoor fun on the water.
Now is the time to be thinking about outdoor recreation safety, particularly while in, on, or near the water. Each year, approximately 4,000 people drown in the United States. In fact, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children. Yet, it is possible – just by wearing a life jacket or taking other precautions – to reduce drowning deaths.
In 2015, of the 626 recreational boating fatalities, 428 were caused by drowning. Almost 82 percent of drowning victims were reported not wearing a life jacket. These U.S. Coast Guard statistics are available at: www.uscgboating.org.
Many people enjoy water-based recreation as part of their Fourth of July celebration. Water-safety officials urge everyone to learn more about safe boating practices and always engage in responsible conduct while on the water. America’s rivers, lakes and oceans are excellent places for boaters to gather with family and friends while enjoying the outdoors. These areas will be busy over the holiday weekend. It is important that individuals avoid risky behavior that can lead to boating accidents. Factors such as careless and reckless operation, inattention and excessive speed contribute to accidents.
As the nation's largest federal provider of water-based outdoor recreation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides visitors a wide range of recreational opportunities, and the safety of these visitors is the Corps' highest priority. To help individuals stay safe, the Corps urges water-recreation enthusiasts to take basic safety precautions. Here are some safety tips from the Corps’ Walla Walla District to help recreation seekers stay safe in at federal recreation areas over the holiday weekend and through the summer months.
1) Wear a life jacket. Pacific Northwest states’ laws require that a lifejacket is available for every person on board a boat. Requirements for minor children to wear a life jacket while the boat is in operation vary in age by state. Be sure you know the rules for your state before you go. A Web search including your state’s name and “life jacket PDF laws rules” will quickly provide the information you need. In states where no life jacket laws exist, U.S. Coast Guard rules require children under 13 wear a life jacket while the vessel is underway or being towed.
2) Watch your children. It only takes a child an average of 20 seconds to drown. Be a water watcher and designate someone to always watch children or any person with special needs while on or around the water.
3) Know your limits. Don’t give in to peer pressure about jumping off a bluff or swimming farther than you should. Recognize your limitations and stay within them.
4) Safe boating. Take a boating safety course. Know the rules before you boat. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that the majority of boating-related fatalities involve operators who have not received any boating safety instruction. By practicing responsible boating habits, people can help contribute to a safer, more enjoyable experience on the water.
5) Alcohol and water don’t mix. More than half of all drowning deaths are related to alcohol consumption. In the Corps’ Walla Walla District, recreation areas where the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages are prohibited include:
• Mill Creek Dam and Bennington Lake, Washington -- All Corps-managed lands and waters.
• Ice Harbor Lock and Dam, Washington -- Charbonneau, Levey, Fishhook, and Windust Parks, located on Lake Sacajawea upstream of the dam.
• McNary Lock and Dam, Washington and Oregon -- Hood Park, located on Lake Wallula near the Snake River confluence.
• Little Goose Lock and Dam, Washington -- Little Goose Lock and Dam Visitor Recreation Area, located below the dam tailrace on the south side of the Snake River.
• Lower Granite Lock and Dam, Washington -- Green Belt Boat Launch, Chestnut Beach, and Swallows Park day-use recreation areas, located on Lower Granite Lake.
• Dworshak Dam and Reservoir, Idaho -- Powerhouse Road fishing area, located below the dam tailrace on the west side of the North Fork of the Clearwater River.
6) Leave fireworks at home – using pyrotechnics poses a high risk of starting fires in parks and habitat areas, and are not allowed on Corps lands in the Walla Walla District. Recreation officials encourage visitors to attend local fireworks displays in communities near the parks.
7) Campfires and barbecues are allowed in designated areas. Some locations have restrictions on open fires, so check the information kiosks at recreation areas for additional fire restriction and safety notices.
The long weekend also marks a major increase in traffic and congestion on our highways, an increase in outdoor recreation at our nation's many parks and recreational areas, and warrants caution to ensure that all are safe throughout their activities.
Go to the Walla Walla District website, www.nww.usace.army.mil and click on the Recreation information link to get the latest information on outdoor recreation opportunities near you.