Many people enjoy swimming and recreating in lakes, rivers, and ponds in Idaho. Precautions need to be taken at these sites because most are not monitored constantly. As there is no treatment at these areas like there are at swimming pools and splash parks, there will be higher levels of potentially dangerous bacteria, viruses, and parasites in the water.
Some safety precautions to take when swimming:
- Don’t swallow the water.
- If eating after being in water, wash hands with clean water and soap or use hand sanitizer before handling food.
- Don’t go into the water if you (or your child) has recently had diarrhea.
- If you have a boat with a sewage holding tank, make sure it is disposed of properly at a pump out station.
- Dispose of your dog’s feces properly by bagging it and placing it in a trash receptacle. Don’t leave it near the shore line.
- If changing a diaper, make sure it is bagged and disposed in a trash receptacle.
- Look for warning signs before entering the water. Beach areas may be closed if high levels of E coli bacteria or cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) are found.
- If you or your child becomes ill after swimming, go to a doctor for tests. Several illnesses commonly associated with swimming are giardia, cryptosporidium, and swimmer’s itch. Prescription medicines may be necessary to clear up the illness.
- If you see what people have described as “neon green paint” in the water, that may actually be a sign of a harmful algal bloom or other names include blue-green algae and cyanobacteria. These can be very dangerous and has been known to kill dogs that drank from the water. Do not enter the water if you see signs. Keep in mind that a harmful algal bloom is not always so obvious so check for any warning signs that may be posted in the area.
- Check the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s website for “Blue-Green Algae Health Advisories” before you go swimming to see if the area is listed.
- Do not swim in canals. Canals are structured to keep water flowing quickly and efficiently. Many people underestimate the strength of the water flowing in a canal and the difficulty in pulling yourself out of the steep sides.
- Make sure to wear life jackets when boating, especially children.