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News / Health / Clark County Health

Clark County Public Health urges caution for swimmers, boaters as summer approaches

Water may not be as safe as it appears to be

By Wyatt Stayner, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 29, 2021, 3:06pm

As temperatures rise and summer approaches, swimming and boating will be commonplace in Clark County.

But just because it’s hot outside doesn’t mean it’s safe to dive right in. Area lakes and rivers are still quite cold, and rivers can be carrying debris and flowing more quickly than they might seem to be, said Brian Schlottmann, an environmental public health program manager with Clark County Public Health.

“You won’t know how cold it is until you are in it,” Schlottmann said. “It can shock and immobilize even the best swimmers.”

Schlottmann advises people to take caution in and around water. You should avoid fast-flowing waters, he said, including rivers and ocean beaches with riptides.

Make sure to know your limits, as drowning often occurs when swimmers are tired, according to Public Health. And don’t swim alone. Public Health also urges people to avoid distractions when kids are swimming or near water. Don’t get caught up in looking at your cellphone, Schlottmann said.

“It’s extra important to be vigilant as a parent,” he said.

In addition to monitoring river conditions, Public Health urges people of all ages to follow these tips for safe swimming and recreating in all bodies of water:

  • Avoid distractions when children are swimming or around water.
  • Teach children how to swim. Enroll children in swim lessons whey they are ready.
  • Children, teens and adults should wear life jackets while boating, using personal watercraft, inner tubing, or using other water sports equipment or swimming in lakes, rivers or the ocean.
  • Avoid alcohol and marijuana use when swimming or boating.
  • Don’t dive into shallow water or jump off bridges or cliffs.
  • Swim in designated swimming areas only. Signs will let you know when and where it’s safe to swim.

Blue-green algae update

Cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae blooms, occur at several bodies of water in Clark County.

Some of the blooms may produce toxins that harm animals and people.

Pay attention to current advisories at local bodies of water by checking Public Health’s swim beach webpage.

You can follow these tips to avoid exposure to harmful blue-green algae blooms:

  • Do not drink, wade in, or swim in water that looks discolored or appears to have algae present.
  • Look for posted advisory signs indicating that a blue-green algae bloom has been reported and find details about the advisory on the Public Health swim beach webpage.
  • Check for visual signs of a bloom. Water can look like green or blue paint has been dumped in it, creating the appearance of scum or soup.
  • Never let your pet eat scum or algae.
  • Always shower after contact with water. Wash pets with clean water.
  • When in doubt, stay out. Cyanotoxins are released as algae cells die off. So even after a bloom has dissipated, toxins may still be present.

If you have contact with water known to have cyanobacteria and/or cyanotoxins, you should rinse off with clean, fresh water as soon as possible, according to Public Health. Anyone who might have been exposed to cyanobacterial toxins, especially those experiencing symptoms, should seek medical treatment right away.

Permanent educational signs

Public Health is posting permanent educational signs at water bodies that are known to have harmful algae blooms. The signs provide recommendations for people who come across algae while recreating in the water.

Public Health will also continue to monitor water bodies with reported algal blooms, but will now issue an advisory only if water testing shows cyanotoxin levels are above recreational guidance. If toxin testing cannot occur or if toxins are below guidance, Public Health will not issue an advisory.

Schlottmann said Public Health made this change because of how frequently advisories used to go out, even when toxin levels weren’t above the guidance. He said he thinks fewer messages will increase the seriousness and importance of advisories when they are made.

“We want folks to see our warnings and take them seriously,” Schlottmann said.

Columbian staff writer