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Utah Parks and Rec Urges Extra Caution after Multiple Tragedies in Reservoirs

Jennifer Kimball Bailey

Last week saw numerous tragedies at reservoirs in and around Wasatch County. While no new details have become available about several recent drowning deaths, the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation is urging visitors to take more thorough safety precautions as they enjoy the water.

Yesterday, an adult couple died in the Deer Creek Reservoir, a man drowned at Pineview Reservoir in Huntsville, and a teenager was rescued after nearly drowning in the Jordanelle.

Devan Chavez of Utah Parks and Recreation said all the deaths are still under investigation.

As of this morning, he did not believe alcohol was a factor in any of the deaths, and the victims were considered capable swimmers.

But the reservoir water is still quite cold, which he said can make it more difficult to swim for anyone.

“Cold water absolutely does play a factor in a person’s ability to swim,” he said. “It can take your breath away, it can cause cramping that can happen sooner, hypothermia can set in; there’s a large amount of difference between how your body reacts to warm water versus cold water. Whether that took place in these instances is hard to tell.”

None of last week’s victims were wearing life jackets. Even experienced swimmers should wear them and take extra safety precautions, he said.

“Whether you’re new to swimming, you’re well experienced at it, the importance of a life jacket cannot be underestimated, regardless of where you think your experience level is. Life jackets do save lives. Nationally, 80% of people who drowned could’ve been prevented if they were wearing a life jacket,” he said.

The parks and rec department has a procedure for helping someone goes overboard: "Reach, throw, row, go.”

Reach someone from the boat or shore with a hand or object they can grab. If that’s impossible, throw them something that floats. Next, row to them to help if possible.

The last resort is to go for help by calling someone qualified in handling emergencies. Or, if physically capable and trained, go into the water with a flotation device to assist them.

Chavez also recommended taking water safety courses, which can help people save others’ lives, as well as their own.

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