Colorado nearing record number of drownings this year, prompting officials to raise alarms over water safety

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Whitewater river rafting on Clear Creek in Idaho Springs, Friday, July 15, 2022

Drownings in Colorado have continued to rise this summer, bringing statewide water deaths this year within 10 of the record set in 2020. 

There have been 26 confirmed drownings in Colorado’s lakes, rivers and streams so far this year. The record set in 2020 was 34 deaths. This year’s deaths rose by 10 in just the last month alone, putting the state on pace to break the record.

Grant Brown, the boat safety and registrations program manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said many of the deaths this year come from boaters or paddle boarders who don’t wear a life jacket and fall into lakes. 

“Cold water immersion is a real deal out here in Colorado, anything under 70 degrees is considered cold water,” Brown said. “If you hit that kind of water unexpectedly, your body will react to that cold water. Usually you'll take a gasp and if they gasp and their head’s underwater, that's usually what's gonna lead to that drowning.” 

Brown said that ever since the pandemic started, people brand new to water recreation have been coming out in droves to Colorado’s waters. These people have been slow to pick up water safety tips, something Brown has seen while he’s out on lakes enforcing the life jacket mandate

“We're making at least 10 to 15 — if not more — contacts on that a day, when you're out on patrol and that's one lake alone,” Brown said. 

Grant said people who forget their life jackets at home or don’t own one can get free loaners from some state parks, such as Lake Pueblo and Chatfield State Park. He’s hoping the state can expand the life jacket loaner program to every major waterway. 

“City municipalities and federal properties, we're working with those and our other partners as well to get more and more of those loaner stations out there,” Brown said.