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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

String Of Recent Drownings At Utah Reservoirs Have Officials Urging People To Wear Life Jackets

A photo of Deer Creek Reservoir.
Murray Foubister
Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Utah's Deer Creek Reservoir is on the Provo River outside of Heber City.

At least four people have drowned at Utah reservoirs in the last week. Now, state and local officials are urging people to be cautious when they’re out recreating this summer.

Three of those deaths happened at Deer Creek Reservoir. Over the weekend, a 72-year-old Arizona man was swimming with a family member off a pontoon boat. They struggled to keep their head above water and the man’s 59-year-old wife jumped in after them. The couple were facedown in the water when help arrived, according to a press release.

On June 17, a 17-year-old boy was playing in water four to eight feet deep, according to a press release. Family members said he suddenly disappeared and didn’t resurface.

None of these individuals are believed to be wearing life jackets, though state law requires everyone to have a life vest within reach when they’re out on the water

Devan Chavez, a public information officer with the state’s Division of Parks and Recreation, said they all seem to be “unfortunate accidents.” He said as state park visitation continues to rise since the beginning of the pandemic, new and experienced recreators need to be reminded of the basics.

“It all comes back to a very simple, straightforward first step — wearing your life jacket,” he said. “People hear it and think oftentimes, like a click it or ticket thing, it just becomes something that they just hear. But really, life jackets save lives.”

Natural currents and ones from boats at reservoirs can make it difficult to swim, according to Eric Stucki, a lieutenant with Utah State Parks. Coupled with hot outdoor temperatures and much cooler water, fatigue can set in quickly for swimmers that are without a flotation device.

“Swimming pools are very, very different from our lakes and reservoirs,” he said. “You talk to any trained athlete that does triathlons, they'll tell you that when they train in a swimming pool and then they jump in the lake, it's very, very different.”

Weber County Sheriff’s Office also responded to a drowning at Pineview Reservoir this weekend. A 37-year-old man swam out to help his child, who was on a floatation device. He was unable to get to them and sunk below the surface, while a bystander helped the child.

Lt. Cortney Ryan said the department strictly enforces life jacket laws, but sometimes people find them uncomfortable or restricting. He said whenever people go out recreating they need to plan ahead and know the rules.

“Know your limits and know your capabilities and don't put yourself in a situation that may be dangerous,” he said.

Officials are also encouraging people to bring plenty of water. They say dehydration can lead to accidents out on reservoirs.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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