The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has begun a new water safety outreach effort in response to the increased number of drownings that have occurred at Corps parks nationwide this year.
Although no accidental drownings have occurred on Corps property in Barry County, there has been a dramatic upswing in the number of drownings in the Little Rock District, which oversees local Corps parks.
"There have been no accidental drownings on Table Rock in Barry County," said PJ Spaul, of USACE. "However, in April, an individual passed out while fishing from a boat in the Big M arm of the lake and died. The fatality was not ruled a drowing."
Other Little Rock District parks, which are located across Arkansas and southern Missouri, have documented nine drownings this year. Only two people drowned at parks located in the district in 2010. None of the victims were wearing life jackets.
"Public safety is our number one priority," said Maj. Gen. Merdith W.B. Temple, USACE acting commanding general. "The increase in deaths at USACE parks this year is of great concern to us. We want to do everything we can to make people aware of potential risks when they visit one of our recreation areas, and how to make good decisions that will improve safety for themselves, families and friends."
This year, 57 people have died on Corps-owned property across the country. Only 39 deaths were recorded during the same period in 2010. Most of the fatalities were ruled as drownings. According to the Corps, more than 90 percent of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.
"The single most important thing visitors to the region's lakes and rivers can do to protect themselves and their loved ones from drowning is to ensure everyone in your group wears a life jacket when on or in the water," said Tracy Fancher, Little Rock District, acting chief of operations. "Few people drown while wearing a life jacket. Somehow we have got to get people to change their behavior and start wearing life jackets."
Lake users should also refrain from using alcohol while boating. Alcohol consumption is another leading cause of drownings on lakes and waterways.
The Corps encourages lake visitors to check local water and weather conditions when planning recreational outings to the lake. Warnings, such as small craft advisories and beach closures should be followed.
For more information on water safety, visit www.swl.usace.army.mil or look for Little Rock USACE on Facebook.