18 January 2022

Canberrans issued with a river safety warning after heavy rains

| Lottie Twyford
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Pine Island Reserve

With local swimming holes like Pine Island Reserve flowing much more quickly than usual, Canberrans are urged to take care in and around the water. Photo: ACT Government.

After the recent spate of La Niña-induced heavy rains and storms, Canberrans are being warned to take extra care in and around their usual swimming spots.

Places like the Casuarina Sands Reserve, Pine Island and Cotter Bend are all experiencing high flows after the rain which means they may be different from previous summers.

With more rain on the way, Royal Life Saving Society ACT general manager Cherry Bailey said swimmers need to pay attention to conditions before going for a swim.

“The recent rainfall has caused what most people will have observed in the rivers – that being faster-flowing currents and much more white water,” she explained.

“But the things people may not have noticed is the debris that is now floating in the river and under the surface.”

Conditions can change daily – and even throughout the day in many cases.

“Under the water may have changed and it may not be the same as the last time you visited,” she said.

It’s particularly important that parents and carers keep an eye on young children and ensure they stay close.

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Ms Bailey said it’s important that Canberrans are aware of the conditions and check whether the water is safe.

Checking the depth of the water with a stick and the condition of the water before entry is important, which can be done simply by looking at the flow.

“If you can see the water flowing swiftly, it’s too fast and we would encourage people not to enter the water,” Ms Bailey explained.

But if you’re unsure, you can throw in a branch or a stick and watch how it moves. If the stick flows quicker than you could keep up with at a walking pace – the river is flowing too quickly.

It’s also vital that people are aware of changing weather conditions as rain upstream can affect the water downstream.

And Ms Bailey’s last advice: “it’s not a good time to go exploring new waterways. Stick to the familiar ones.”

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According to the Royal Life Saving Society’s latest annual report, drowning deaths in 2020/21 increased by 20 per cent compared to 2019/20, and four people drowned in the ACT in the last financial year.

The report also serves as a sobering reminder that more people drown annually in Australia’s inland waterways than at beaches.

Before swimming in lakes and rivers, it’s recommended people check the National Capital Authority (for information about Lake Burley Griffin) or the ACT Government’s website for information about current water quality and the types of activities that are safe.

Canberrans are asked not to enter waterways if signs advise of dangerous or hazardous conditions.

See the NCA website or the City Services for more information.

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