New warnings surface at Skaha beach
Safety precautions have been stepped up along the Okanagan River Channel and Skaha Lake in light of a girl drowning two weeks ago.
The City of Penticton, which leases the beach area where the girl had drowned from a Penticton Indian Band member, added additional signage near the hazardous waterway and near the exit point of the river channel.
“We felt it was important to act without delay and be proactive in protecting the public,” said Simone Blais, communications officer with the City of Penticton.
Signs have been put up indicating the area west of where the river channel releases into Skaha Lake is a no swimming area, and a snow fence was extended from an existing fence across the beach where the drowning happened to dissuade people from entering the water.
Blais said although it isn’t within the city jurisdiction, they felt it was important to place signs as floaters approach the exit staircase at the bottom of the channel to advise them to exit the water there. A sign was also placed at the bridge indicating to those on the channel they are not to go under it and into the lake. Blais said discussion has surfaced on enforcement on the river channel during their ongoing review of safety standards.
“That is a big challenge when you start talking about the river channel because it is a multi-jurisdictional area and the issues it poses with being a water entity,” said Blais. “There is an element that doesn’t necessarily abide by the rules, so the questions we are asking is what can we do. We are discussing river channel safety and all the elements, be that enforcement with the RCMP and having discussions with the stakeholders. We want the public to be safe when they are here enjoying the area.”
Findings compiled by the B.C. Coroners Service show the highest proportion of accidental drownings occur in the Okanagan, Kootenays and Kamloops area. A study from 2006 to 2010 found about one-seventh of the 404 accidental drownings in the province involved non-residents to the area.
On July 29, a 12-year-old Kamloops area girl drowned in Skaha Lake in Penticton while swimming and playing in an area marked off by buoys cautioning boaters of a sandbar and swimmers to stay clear. Emergency Management B.C. said because of the weather the province had earlier in the summer, all waterways pose a danger.
“Touring the Interior region of the province recently, I have never seen such high water levels and flow rates at this time of year,” said Chris Duggy, executive director for Emergency Management B.C.
Penticton Fire Department Chief Wayne Williams said people are still not treating the water with respect, especially the Okanagan River Channel.
“People are still tying their floating devices together and that is a bad thing, especially when they hit the pillars of the bridges, because the water is pushing them down either side of it and they are stuck there because of the rope,” said Williams. “People can fall out or flip over, and the channel is still running fairly good, maybe not as fast as a few weeks ago, but it is still fast.”
A recent report from the Lifesaving Society of B.C. and Yukon pointed out the two major reasons victims drown is that they were not wearing a personal flotation device, followed by an inability to swim.