A drought has left many Central Texas lakes and creeks several inches below normal this summer, creating potential hazards for swimmers and boaters.
Bell County has seen one drowning death so far this year, said Lt. Donnie Adams, Bell County Sheriff’s Department spokesman. A Temple High School student drowned May 18 while swimming with friends in Belton Lake.
June and July are peak months for drowning deaths, and with Belton Lake more than 8 feet below its normal level, swimmers should be more vigilant.
“Some of our swimming areas are out of the water, and people are swimming in undesignated areas that may not be as safe,” said Murray McCarley, a park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Don’t go diving in head first. Wade out and check the area out.”
And even though designated beach areas may be further than usual from the shoreline, McCarley said swimmers should stay close to the sandbar.
“Don’t go swimming out in the middle of the lake, even during the daytime,” he said. “Unless you have a boat right there with you, you’re just a little head in the water that somebody may not see.”
Alcohol and the absence of a life jacket are two common denominators in most drowning deaths, Adams said.
“If you’re not a good swimmer, you’ve got to wear your life jacket,” he said. “There’s no assigned lifeguard (at Belton Lake), so parents have got to be with their kids and keep an eye on them at all times.”
Ronnie Bruggman, reservoir manager for Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes, said Belton Lake will see 2.4 million visitors this year, with the bulk of visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Bruggman offered a few basic tips for swimmers and boaters: know your limitations; avoid diving from bluffs; and, above all, drink responsibly. As part of Operation Dry Water, local law enforcement agencies will expand their patrols to minimize the amount of boating while intoxicated incidents.
“Alcohol and water don’t mix,” he said. “Just be aware of your limits.”
Bruggman also advised against swimming at night. “There’s too much potential for accidents to occur.”