What you need to know about swimming in Lake Lanier and other open waters

Heavy rains have caused Lake Lanier waters to rise over its full pool elevation, requiring water to be released into the Chattahoochee River for the next two weeks. (Photo: AJC file photo)

As the weather warms up, more people are drawn to the water. Unfortunately, the risk of drowning rises and a spell of heavy rains can cause water levels to swell rapidly and can increase currents to dangerous levels within hours.

Emergency responders are rescuing more stranded swimmers. Last week in Monroe County, a crew rescued two teens who were stuck in a fast-moving Georgia river at High Falls State. A man drowned at Lake Lanier on Saturday after he and some friends were swimming back to the shore at Lanier Park, according to authorities. Earlier today, authorities resumed a search for two teenagers who likely drowned in the waters of a swollen creek in Oconee County.

A new report by Safe Kids Worldwide and Nationwide’s Make Safe Happen program estimates 1,000 children drown every year, with 70 percent of the drownings taking place from May through August.


The study, called “The 2018 Open Safety Water Report,” reveals children are more likely to drown in an open water (such as lakes, rivers and oceans) than a pool, particularly as children get older. For younger children ages 1-4, the majority of drownings (57 percent) occur in pools. By the time children are 15, however, the risk of drowning in an ocean, lake or another open water is far greater. Nine percent of drownings involving teenagers ages 15-19 occur in pools, compared to 73 percent in open water, according to this study based on analyzing data on drownings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention.

Along with decreased visibility, open bodies of water can have unpredictable and strong currents, and sudden drop-offs, and even experienced swimmers may struggle in the colder water of lakes and rivers.

Here are some things to know if you’re headed out to the water:

— High water levels are making it unsafe to swim or boat in the Chattahoochee River. Recent heavy rains have raised Lake Lanier over its full pool elevation of 1,071 feet, and the levels are expected to rise with more forecasted precipitation, according to an Army Corps release. The Corps must release water out of Buford Dam into the Chattahoochee River during the coming days. That started the afternoon of Wednesday, May 30, according to a news release. The Army Corps said it may be unsafe to to swim or boat in the Chattahoochee River due to high water levels for up to two weeks.

— Conditions can change quickly. Lake Lanier was deemed safe days ago, but after more rain Lanier Park was open but the beach and swim area was closed to the public due to the agency’s high-water plan, according to Justin Wilson of Gwinnett Fire and Emergency Services.

— Teach your child that swimming in open water is different from swimming in a pool. Make sure they are aware of challenges such as limited visibility, currents and undertow.

— Designate a “water watcher.” This person should not be reading or texting. They should never take their eyes off the children. Adults should take turns and have a designated person watching at all times.

— Drowning can happen quickly and quietly. You might expect a drowning person to splash or yell for help. Sometimes, people quietly slip beneath the water.

— Use designated swimming and recreational areas whenever possible. Professionals have assessed the area, and there are usually signs posted regarding hazards and lifeguard schedules.