FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Deaths on any lake are always a tragedy.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources Public Affairs Officer Mark McKinnon said so far this year, seven people drowned on Lake Lanier.
“We’ve had years with a larger number of fatalities and years with less,” McKinnon said. “It’s not always possible to determine why one year is higher than others.”
Both Forsyth County Fire Department Chief Jason Shivers and McKinnon said drowning occurs for several reasons.
“Of course alcohol is a big issue during the season,” Shivers said. “Every law enforcement agency is working to combat that particular issue.”
But Shivers said areas not designated for swimming are a problem, too.
“The lake wasn’t initially designed for recreational use,” Shivers said. “While there are many safe areas to swim, the areas designated as unsafe have that label for a reason.”
Lake Lanier was originally created to generate power and for flood control, both for the city of Atlanta. It was created by the completion of Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River in 1956 and is also fed by the waters of the Chestatee River.
“Prior to it being filled completely, it was forest and towns, which were never cleared,” Shivers said. “The remains of that rest below the water, causing some areas to be unsafe.”
He said they’re cautious to send divers into unsafe areas because of the depth and debris at the bottom.
“Old fences, trees and other things are traps for even the most experienced diver,” Shivers said. “The amount of broken fishing wire underwater adds an even greater level of risk, so using the sonar equipment is a safer option in those areas.”
Shivers was quick to point out that designated swimming areas are safe for use, but that all swimmers, regardless of experience, should never swim alone.
“We encourage the buddy system at all times,” Shivers said. “That goes for fishing, too, because accidents can happen to anyone.”
“Parents should never take their eyes off of their children when they’re in the water,” McKinnon said.
He said most people think drowning victims will thrash and scream, but drowning is a silent death.
“Once water enters the lungs, a person is unable to make sound and death occurs quickly after that,” McKinnon said.
Both encourage all swimmers to wear life vests.
“Even the most experienced swimmers get tired or misjudge how far they’re going,” Shivers said. “Be cautious and pay attention to your body before considering going into the water and it can quite possibly save your life.”