Local rivers are favorite places to cool off when July's temperatures soar into the 90s and beyond, but the waterways can also be danger zones for swimmers, a point that hit close to home Sunday with the drowning of 21-year-old Reno resident Benjamin Miller.
Miller was swimming with friends near Devols Dam on the Muskingum River when he apparently fell into a deep channel and was pulled under by the current.
The Muskingum is popular for local swimmers but experts advise avoiding the area's other river.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Three friends share a rope swing as they cool off along the Muskingum River near Marietta’s River Trail Sunday afternoon.
"Swimming in the river is really an individual preference, but we don't promote swimming in the Ohio River due to barges and other boats, undertow, debris in the river and other concerns," said Jeanne Ison, manager of public relations for the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO).
"It's up to the individual, but swimmers should remember the Ohio is a working river with lots of traffic, and people should use a lot of caution in the water," she said.
Walt and Jayne Rhodes of Circleville towed their pontoon boat to the Indian Acres boat ramp in Marietta Sunday.
If you swim in local rivers
or lakes be aware of:
Hazards, such as dams, underwater obstacles, or rocks or debris moving on the surface or along the bottom of the water.
Aquatic life, such as vegetation that could entangle feet or animals that live in, on or around the water.
Sudden drop-offs that change water depth.
Other people's activities in the same waters, such as boating.:
Always swim with a buddy.
Always enter unknown or shallow water cautiously, feet first.
Natural water can become contaminated from sewage, animal waste and water runoff following rainfall.
Avoid swallowing the water.
Avoid swimming after rainfalls or in areas identified as unsafe by health departments.
"I love the Muskingum River, and our dogs like to go for a swim, too," Jayne said as they packed up the boat for a return home.
The couple often take dips from their boat in both the Muskingum and Ohio rivers.
"She can't swim, so she has to wear a life jacket in the water," Walt said. "I like to swim, except when the water's high. The current can sweep you away."
Jayne said she also has some concern about swimming too close to sewer outfalls along the rivers.
Rodney and Michelle Nichols of Waterford, who were fishing near the Muskingum River dam at Lowell Sunday morning, said they see many people swimming at local locks and dams.
"On Memorial Day weekend there were probably 15 to 30 people swimming in this area," Michelle said.
But Rodney noted that some swimmers don't seem to use common sense around the dams.
"I was fishing at the Luke Chute dam recently and saw several people walking all the way across the river by wading along the top of the dam-but not me, it's just too easy to slip and fall," he said.
Devols Dam lock technician Rick Burnside said swimming in the Muskingum can be dangerous.
"A 10- or 11-year-old girl almost drowned in this area a couple of weeks ago," he said. "She was wading with some other kids near that small island on the other side of the river. Then I heard screaming and saw kids running across the island."
Burnside saw the young girl's head bobbing in the water and asked a nearby boater to help.
"She went down two or three times before he finally got her out," he said. "People don't realize that the current can be strong where the river is narrower near the island."
The youngster was returned to her parents who were camping along the river bank nearby.
Miller's drowning on Sunday occurred near a sand bar in the same location a few yards below Devols Dam.
"I've worked on the Muskingum for 31 years now," Burnside said. "And if you don't pay attention to this river, it will get you in the end."
Ison said another main concern for swimmers is bacteria in the river water.
"Bacteria levels are usually higher just after a medium to heavy rainfall," she said. "There can also be combined sewer overflows from some city sewer systems into the river after a heavy rain."
Ison said bacteria levels will usually dissipate within 24 hours after a rainfall.
Dana Pierce, spokeswoman with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, agreed that swimmers should be aware of waterborne bacteria.
"We want people to enjoy the state's waterways, but they have to use some common sense," she said. "Don't ingest water while swimming in rivers or lakes-all surface waters contain bacteria. Also, after swimming, be sure to wash your hands before eating or preparing meals, and never swim if you have a wound as infection can get in."
Pierce said after a rainstorm people should also avoid swimming immediately downstream of a sewer outfall pipe.
She said swimmers should also be alert for algae blooms that can produce toxins harmful to people and pets in some lakes and ponds.
"If the water looks odd with a blue-green surface scum or filmy colored surface, or if it smells funny, stay out of that water," Pierce said.