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King County urges caution on lakes, rivers over the long Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff to the summertime outdoor recreation season, and King County officials are urging everyone to use caution when around open water.

County officials expressed heightened concern about swimmer safety, given that 24 preventable drowning deaths were recorded in King County in 2012 – up from an average of 17 per year over the previous four years.

“We know that many of these tragic drowning deaths could have been avoided by simply wearing a personal flotation device and using common sense,” said Sheriff John Urquhart. “We have already performed numerous emergency rescues on the water this year, because people were either ill-prepared for conditions or overestimated their ability to avoid dangerous situations.”

Christie True, Director of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, stressed that rivers are dangerous this time of year because of increased snowmelt and cold temperatures.

“Rivers are beautiful, but dangerous. High, fast flows combined with the dynamic nature of river systems create potentially dangerous conditions,” she said. “Boaters, floaters, kayakers, rafters and other river users should check conditions and scout rivers thoroughly for hazards before getting on the water – and they should always wear a life jacket.”

Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said safer swimming options include any of the pools or beaches where lifeguards are stationed.

“Rivers and lakes can be fun, but open and unsupervised water this time of year can be simply deadly,” Dr. Fleming said. “By using caution around the water, wearing a personal flotation device and teaching youth the same, we can prevent future tragedies.”

More information on water safety, including drowning prevention, is available at http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/injury/water.aspx.

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