The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

August 29, 2013

DEQ wants Oklahomans to have fun, but be cautious on the last blast of the summer

Staff and wire reports
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The Labor Day weekend is seen by many as the last blast of summer.

As such, many people flock to a nearby lake, river or stream for fun in the sun before returning to work and school.

Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality officials urge people to have fun, but also be cautious.

Certain bacteria, viruses and protozoa can be present in untreated bodies of water. Some of these microorganisms occur naturally, while others are carried into surface waters from a variety of sources, Erin Hatfield, of DEQ, said in a new release. Some of these microorganisms are harmful and can cause mild problems, such as ear infection, swimmer’s itch and gastrointestinal upset, or relatively rare but serious conditions such as eye infections and some forms of meningitis.

Swimmers should pay close attention to water conditions, Hatfield said. Also, it is important to pay attention to posted signs and follow the recommendations. DEQ recommends the following precautions when swimming in any body of untreated water to reduce exposure to waterborne microorganisms:

• Hold nose or wear nose plugs when jumping into the water.

• Wash open skin cuts and scrapes with clean soap and water immediately after swimming.

• Avoid swallowing water when swimming.

• Wear ear plugs to prevent ear infections.

• Wear swim goggles or masks to prevent eye infections.

• Avoid swimming near storm drains (pipes that drain polluted water from streets).

• Take children to the restroom frequently and use swim diapers on infants.

• Stay away from any area that has floating debris, stagnant water, oil sheens or dead fish.

Don Underwood, chief park ranger at Fort Supply Lake, said safety is a big concern around water.

“We just can’t say it enough about water safety,” he said. “We cite people every weekend out here who don’t have proper safety equipment for their boats and many other things.

“I do not want one more death on this lake,” he said.

Underwood is referring primarily to the death of 18-year-old Johnathan T. Loftis early this summer. But others, such as the 2010 drowning of 29-year-old Sean Henson, also haunt his mind.

“Children under 12 must have a life jacket on,” Underwood said. “Not just on, but secured. Not just nearby, but on and secured.”

A safety citation at Army Corps of Engineers lakes costs $90, Underwood said.

“And the court cost is another $25 fee as well as having to go to Oklahoma City, where all our cases are handled.” he said.

Underwood said there also are problems with people who do not understand the buoy warning system, which includes orange circles, which indicates a “no wake” area where boaters need to slow down.

The diamond shapes indicate a possible underwater hazard and a diamond with an X inside of it indicates an area that is off limits, he said

“You know, on some of these lakes, if you get to close to the gate towers, when those things start flowing you can be pulled through the gate and taken over the dam,” Underwood said.

Underwood also said slower, more thoughtful and careful operation of water sporting vehicles, such as water skis and boats is key to remaining safe.

“In this case television is our worst enemy,” Underwood said. “Commercials show people driving these things fast and in an exciting way but that is not always the best way of driving.”

Rachael Van Horn of the Woodward News contributed to this story.