Lake drownings bring on calls for safety

Too often this spring and summer, a trip to the lake in the Wichita area has ended in tragedy.

Sixteen people have drowned in lakes managed by the Tulsa district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers so far this year — one more than all of last year, with more than half of the summer recreational season yet to come.

Five of those have come in Kansas lakes: three at John Redmond Reservoir in Coffey County and two at Marion Reservoir near Marion.

Those numbers don't include two drownings earlier this month at local lakes not under the corps' jurisdiction: one at Cheney Reservoir and another at a private lake in the 4900 block of West 21st Street.

The grim toll has corps officials urging people who plan to head to the lake for the Fourth of July holiday to be smart and wear life jackets anytime they're on or next to the water.

None of the drowning victims was wearing a life jacket, said Nathan Herring, a corps spokesman. All but one of them may have lived if they had.

"A lot of times, people don't wear a life jacket because they don't intend to be in the water," Herring said. But the boat they're in capsizes or they slip off a dock or are wading through shallow water and are pulled into deeper water.

"Especially if you are in a boat, have a life jacket on," Herring said. "That can mean the difference between life and death."

If you go to the lake and realize you forgot a life jacket, he said, check with the lake's recreational center to see whether it has jackets you can borrow for the day. Most corps lakes have a "life jacket loaner board."

Having a life jacket on children in the water is a must, Herring said.

"It only takes a child an average of about 20 seconds to drown," he said. "Watch them closely."

They could drown in the time it takes a parent to turn hot dogs or flip burgers on the grill, Herring said.

Mixing alcohol and time on the water is also dangerous, he said. Alcohol impairs judgment — both in choices about what to do in the water and in being able to respond correctly in a dangerous situation.

These warnings aren't intended to scare people away from the water, Herring said.

"We definitely want people to go out to the lakes, and we want them to enjoy it," he said. "We want people to be smart about it.

"We want people to make good decisions and know their limitations."