Investigations into the tragic deaths of eight individuals who drowned in B.C.’s rivers and lakes are prompting warnings, particularly in the southern Interior.
The B.C. Coroners Service recently began its investigations into the deaths of individuals from ages 12 to 75, occurring in a variety of circumstances.
With the B.C. Day weekend underway, the Coroners Service and Emergency Management B.C. are warning residents and visitors to take extra care when engaging in water-related activities in an effort to prevent further loss of life.
“Touring the Interior region of the province recently, I have never seen such high water levels and flow rates at this time of year,” said Chris Duffy, executive director for Emergency Management.
High runoff from the winter’s snowpack and heavy rains during the spring and early summer have left many rivers, streams, and lakes with much higher water levels than is usual at this time of year. As well, many rivers and streams, especially in the southern Interior, are running much faster, and at higher levels, than would normally be expected by the B.C. Day weekend.
As a result of these unusual water conditions, activities that might have been quite safe in mid-summer in other years may not be safe this summer.
“The risk in many activities such as rafting, tubing and canoeing is likely to be much higher than might otherwise be expected,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said.
Lapointe noted that visitors to B.C. are often at particularly high risk because they do not recognize that local waters are likely to be more hazardous than those in other parts of Canada or the world. The water is often colder, lakes have steep drop-offs, and underwater debris can pose unexpected difficulties.
Even local rivers and lakes that have dropped in volume pose a concern.
Over in the Shuswap River, the flooding in June caused a significant amount of debris to be washed into the waterway.
“Now that the weather’s turned a lot of people are using the waterways,” said Rick Fairbairn, Area D director of tubers and swimmers in the river. “I just hope that they are aware of the hazards.”
Accidental drowning deaths in B.C. 2006-10
- A total of 404 accidental drownings have occurred in B.C. over the five year period, for an average of about 80 drowning deaths each year.
- Five out of six of those who drowned were male.
- Alcohol and/or drugs were noted to be contributing factors in more than two out of five of the deaths (42.3 per cent).
- About one-seventh of the deaths involved visitors to B.C.
- Almost one-third of all deaths (30.9 per cent) occurred during the two months of July and August. Almost half of the visitors who drowned (49.2 per cent) died during that two-month period.
- The three most common recreational activities involving in accidental drowning were: swimming, motor boating, and canoeing/kayaking.
- The highest proportion of accidental drowning occurred in the southern Interior (an area which encompasses the Kamloops area, the Okanagan and the Kootenays).
- More than half the deaths occurred in the age group from 20 through 49.