Is it safe to swim in a reservoir?

Local News

Rainbow Bay taken on Sept 16. Photo Courtesy Department of Water Quality

(ABC4) – A seventeen-year-old was swimming with his family at Deer Creek Reservoir Thursday when he went underwater and did not resurface.

Sadly, the teen did not survive. His body was pulled from the water that evening, which rangers say was anywhere from four to eight feet deep. The cause of his death is currently under investigation.

“Yesterday it was a tragic, tragic incident. The family was there. They were together. They were aware of what each one was doing. We just can’t stress enough how important it is to have some kind of a flotation device when you’re in our bodies and water,” Lt. Eric Stucki, North Region Lieutenant, Utah State Parks, says

According to Stucki, there are a variety of factors that could make swimming in open waters such as reservoirs, dangerous.

First, he says it’s important to keep water temperature and air temperature in mind. Just because it’s a warm day, doesn’t mean that the water temperature will also be high. Swimmers should also be aware of waves and undercurrents in reservoirs.

Another factor is visibility under the water, which can be limited due to sediment.

“… with our lakes, where most of them are fed by rivers and streams, there’s a lot of sediment in them… And so if a person does swimming in it and goes under the water, their visibility may be confused, and they may not be aware of what is up and what is down, because of the low visibility,” Stucki tells ABC4.

According to Stucki, though Arredondo’s cause of death is still unknown, he is aware of some factors that could have played into how the teen ended up in trouble. For example, he was swimming in an area where “washouts” are common. Stucki says the young man’s family said he was not an experienced swimmer.

“A person may be wading in the water, and all sudden, it’s four feet of water and they take a couple steps and all of a sudden they’re in eight feet of water because of a washout. And if they go a little further, then it may go back to four feet…” Stucki explains.

“People need to be aware that these aren’t like your ocean beaches. Most of them are man-made in rock cropping areas. And so these washouts are along these areas and people need to be aware of those,” he adds.

This means that these dips and pits were likely part of the land’s geological makeup when the reservoir was filled. Years of erosion can also cause washouts.

“And so we strongly, strongly advise folks that whenever they’re swimming in these open bodies of water to wear a life jacket, or some kind of a flotation device, or have a flotation device with them,” Stucki states. “And especially if they’re not a swimmer. A lot of folks forget that they’re not strong swimmers. And if these currents and these waves and the weather play a factor, folks will find themselves in trouble quite fast. They don’t realize their skills are not where they should be.”

And though Stucki says Utah has done a good job of removing any equipment from reservoirs, lakes sometimes experience heavy runoff and debris from rivers that run into them.

Alcohol consumption did not play a role in Thursday’s drowning, but Stucki says it has in past drownings in the reservoir.

“People do need to be aware that if they are drinking alcohol, that enhances the opportunity for them to get into trouble simply because of dehydration through the heat of the day. The exercise and the exertion that they’re doing, their body is trying to break down the alcohol that they consumed,” he explains. “And so the effects are even greater when you’re in a water setting and and swimming.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Utah Coronavirus

More Coronavirus Updates