Grand Haven Tribune: Police urge caution as water levels, drownings rise
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Police urge caution as water levels, drownings rise

By Devin Dely/The Holland Sentinel • Jun 29, 2019 at 10:00 AM

As water levels continue to increase across Michigan, so do the chances of water-related injuries for swimmers and boaters.

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit is urging people to exercise caution during all water-related activities in an effort to minimize the large number of drownings that inevitably occur every year on the Great Lakes.

“We’ve been monitoring the water levels around the piers in Holland and Grand Haven,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. “At both locations, the water is within inches of the top, and at some locations over the top of the piers. We want to emphasize the need for safety on these structures. The water on top can create slippery and hazardous situations ... even the smallest of waves will now wash over the top of the pier creating the potential for being swept off.”

It’s important that swimmers adhere to the safety guidelines and flags at beaches. Yellow should be taken as a sign to use great caution, while red means that absolutely no one should be in the water.

The Marine Unit also warns that electric shock drowning (ESD) remains a danger around smaller docks, many of which are now underwater due to the rising water levels. Many of these docks have electrical equipment, creating the risk of electric shock for nearby swimmers when the equipment is submerged.

Lake Michigan’s water levels are quickly approaching the all-time high, currently sitting at just under 582 feet.

In these cases, the biggest threat remains the Great Lakes themselves.

According to data provided by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project (GLSRP), which has kept track of nearly all reported drownings on the Great Lakes since 2010, there have been 18 drownings so far in the Great Lakes in 2019, 10 of which have been in Lake Michigan.

Typically, Lake Michigan has the most drowning deaths of the Great Lakes every year. But last year saw a dramatic increase in drownings in lakes Erie and Ontario, boosting overall numbers for 2018 to 117 drownings total, a dramatic increase from previous years.

“So, the question is, did drowning increase or did drowning reporting become improved?” said Dave Benjamin, one of the founding members of the GLSRP.

The GLSRP estimates about 740 drowning deaths on the Great Lakes since 2010, with Lake Michigan accounting for roughly 45 percent of those deaths.

“Drowning is a public health issue, but it doesn’t get treated like one,” Benjamin said. “It gets treated like a recreational issue. We don’t get funding for outreach, research and education like we do for other public health issues.”

According to Benjamin, education is one of the best things they can do to keep the public safe.

“We advocate that if somebody gets in trouble in the water, the strategy is ‘flip, float and follow,’” he said. “The biggest thing to understand is that water is a source of life, but it’s also the leading cause of accidental death. Most people don’t know what drowning looks like, and if you don’t have eyes on the water, you’re not going to hear it or see it.”

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