Take steps to stay safe while swimming and recreating in lakes, rivers and pools

Published Date

Vancouver, Wash. – With the likely reopening of public pools and a return to outdoor recreation this summer, Public Health is reminding people to take caution in and around the water. Warm weather may be on the horizon, but area lakes and rivers are still cold, and water may be moving quickly. By taking a few simple steps everyone can stay safe while enjoying the water throughout the summer.

Know the water conditions

  • Lakes and rivers in Southwest Washington are still cold enough to shock and immobilize even the strongest of swimmers.
  • Rivers are high and swift from rain and snow melt and may be carrying debris.
  • Avoid fast-flowing waters. This includes rivers and ocean beaches with riptides.
  • Know your limits. Drowning often occurs when swimmers tire.
  • Don’t swim alone.

In addition to monitoring river conditions, Public Health urges people of all ages to follow these tips for safe swimming and recreating in all bodies of water:

  • Avoid distractions when kids are swimming or around water. Supervision requires complete attention, even if another adult is present. Drowning can happen swiftly and silently.
  • Teach children how to swim. Enroll children in swim lessons whey they are ready. Early and often swim lessons will teach children the skills needed to stay safe while in and around water.
  • Wear a life jacket. Children, teens and adults should wear life jackets while boating, using a personal watercraft, inner tubing or while using other water sports equipment. Life jackets should also be worn while swimming in lakes, rivers or the ocean.
  • Ensure children always wear life jackets. Inflatable toys do not keep children safe. By law, children 12 years and younger must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket or vest on all vessels 18 feet or smaller.
  • Avoid alcohol and marijuana use when swimming or boating.
  • Don’t dive into shallow water or jump off bridges or cliffs.
  • Swim in designated swimming areas only. Signs will be viewable letting you know when and where it’s safe to swim.

Protect yourself, your kids, and your pets from blue-green algae

Cyanobacteria, or more commonly known as harmful blue-green algal blooms, have been known to occur at several waterbodies in Clark County. These blooms may produce toxins that are harmful to animals and people. Pets, especially cats and dogs, are inquisitive and may not hesitate before swimming or drinking water, even if algae is present. Animals may also lick algae caught in their fur after being in the water or eat dried clumps of algae along the shore.  

Be aware of current advisories at local waterbodies by checking the Public Health swim beach webpage and follow these tips to avoid exposure to harmful blue-green algal blooms:

  • Do not drink, wade, or swim in water that looks discolored or appears that algae may be present. Learn more about harmful algal blooms on the Public Health website.
  • Look for posted advisory signs indicating a blue-green algal bloom has been reported and find details about the advisory on the Public Health swim beach webpage.
  • Check for visual signs of a bloom. Water can look like green or blue paint has been dumped in the water, creating the appearance of scum or soup.
  • Never let your dog eat scum or algae.
  • Always shower after water contact and wash pets with clean water.
  • When in doubt, stay out! Cyanotoxins are released as algae cells die off. So even after a bloom has dissipated, toxins may still be present.  

Anyone who has contact with water known to have cyanobacteria and/or cyanotoxins, should rinse off with clean, fresh water as soon as possible. Anyone who might have been exposed to cyanobacterial toxins, especially those experiencing symptoms, should seek medical treatment right away.

Look for new year-round algae educational signs

Blooms most often occur during the summer when the water is warm and the sun is out, but they can occur at any time throughout the year. To help keep people informed about potentially hazardous conditions, Public Health is posting educational signs that will remain year-round at waterbodies known to have harmful algal blooms. The signs provide water contact recommendations for people who come across algae while recreating in the water.

Public Health will continue to monitor waterbodies with reported algal blooms but will only issue an advisory if water testing shows cyanotoxins levels are above the recreational guidance established by the Washington State Department of Health. If toxin testing cannot occur or if toxins are detected below recreational guidance, Public Health will not issue an advisory.