Child Drowning Fatalities Are Shockingly High in Oklahoma
It's always nice to read your hometown or state is ranked high for something, but this is nothing to celebrate.
Oklahoma has the nation's ninth-highest rate of drowning fatalities, and there's no apparent reason for it. Even worse, when you take away the adults, Oklahoma shoots to #4 on the list of child drowning deaths.
Let's wildly speculate why that is...
Are swimming pools the real killers?
When it's hot outside, there is no better way to cool off than hopping into a cool, clear pool. My hometown has a giant pool that overlooks the lake, and when the temp climbs up into the 90s, that place is packed. Same/same at the community activity center/indoor pool. There's even a small water park right on the county line that stays packed all summer long.
In all my years, I've never heard of a single person/child drowning at any of those places. Even Google fails to bring up any news about it... but it's the backyard pools that seem to sing the Sirens' song to kids, luring them to a tragic death.
The drowning rate among children has grown over the last two decades as above-ground and inflatable pools have become affordable and popular. Since these types of pools are common with first-time pool owners, especially considering how tall the sides of these pools are, death is the last thing on most parents' minds but life (or death in this case) finds a way.
While pools may be the culprit for kids in the Sooner State, they aren't responsible for the incredibly vast majority of adult drowning deaths. It's our lakes and rivers.
Oklahoma isn't nearly as famous for our manmade lakes as we could be. If you didn't already know, the Sooner State doesn't have a single natural lake within our border.
Not a single natural lake.
This has always been the plains land of rivers, but it all changed in the 1930s when people figured out that we could limit flood hazards, conserve precious water, and bring electricity to the frontier by damming our mighty rivers.
In doing so, massive reservoirs were created by flooding forested valleys and old town sites. This adds up to huge water hazards that replenish themselves with every big rain... but do most drowned Oklahomans catch death in our lakes? Yes.
When drowning reports go out, the media will follow the story until the final details are provided by state officials. While boating accidents are surprisingly common, it's uncanny how often a report will include something along the lines of "Victim was discovered trapped in an underwater hazard" which is code for being caught in a submerged tree.
Beyond the deadly design of Oklahoma's lakes, there is another contributing factor...
Pass me another beer...
The most common note in most Sooner State drowning autopsies is alcohol, and that's understandable. The lake and river culture in this state runs deep and tastes like domestic pilsner.
While partying on the water is common across the state, it's like a religion in Northeast Oklahoma where the big waters are. Every reservoir has at least one designated "Party Beach" where people go through the hassle of loading and hauling a boat to the lake just to park it on the sand and drink beer in lawn chairs. It's like regular old hanging out but with extra steps.
The 'River Rat' culture also runs deep. Everything is pretty much the same except the beach becomes a sandbar and the boats have huge fans on the back of them. The only difference between lake and river culture is the 'River Rats' will spend $400 on a name-brand Yeti cooler and then fill it with the cheapest Keystone Light they can find.
How can Oklahoma improve our drowning rate?
While it'd be great if we could just pass a law that makes drowning illegal, we all know that sort of thing doesn't work. We also can't ban alcohol from the boating experience. Prohibition hasn't ever worked. Perhaps public awareness is the way to go.
If more people know about Oklahoma's drowning problems there might be fewer drownings. If it's always in a small corner of everyone's mind, more thought will go into water safety regardless of pools/lakes/rivers/bathtubs/etc...
Water safety classes start for babies as young as 6 months. While they're still too young to actually swim, they'll learn to float. It's a terrifyingly amazing thing to witness and should be a priority for all parents.
Solving the issue for adults is going to take adulting. Designating responsible people to remain sober, self-imposing limits on how much alcohol you consume, being a grown-up, etc...
Life is too short to not have a good time, but good times can be had responsibly too.