A life jacket is a life saver

By Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Ph.D., manager of watershed partnerships

Some people have plenty of excuses why they don’t wear a life jacket when paddling or boating, but there’s not a single good reason.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Coast Guard:

• Drowning was reported as the cause of death in 79 percent of all boating fatalities.
• Approximately 86 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

Graphic of the Wear It life jacket

Life jacket excuses

I don’t need a lifejacket; I’m a good swimmer.
The fact is that two-thirds of drowning victims are good swimmers.

I don’t need to wear one in my kayak–only when I am in a big boat.
In a kayak or canoe you may run into low-hanging branches or submerged objects, which can cause you to turn over and fall in. You don’t want to be without a lifejacket if that happens.

I have life jackets on board the boat.
That’s nice, but have you ever tried to put a life jacket on as your boat capsizes or overturns? That’s like trying to put on your seatbelt during a car accident. 

Life jackets get in the way. They are too hot and too uncomfortable.
That’s not true anymore! Today, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials. They are much more comfortable and light weight. There are even inflatable life jackets which offer a comfortable alternative to traditional life jackets. They provide range of motion and are cooler to wear in warmer weather.

Nothing is ever going to happen to me.
We hope not. Please don’t risk the pain and grief you would cause your family and friends because you were too stubborn/lazy/cool to #WearIt?

Graphic showing which life jacket is right for you

Life jacket tips
Keep these tips in mind when buying and using your life jacket.

  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved.
  • Double check that your life jacket is appropriate for your favorite water activities. Read the label!
  • Take the time to ensure a proper fit. A life jacket that is too large or too small can cause problems.
  • Check that your life jacket is in good condition, with no tears or holes.
  • If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets based on their weight. Life jackets meant for adult-sized people do not work for children. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to “grow into.”

Boating safety tips
Wearing a life jacket is one of the best ways to ensure a fun and safe day on the water. Here are a few others:

  • Check the weather, including the water temperature. Know the latest marine weather forecast prior to going out, and keep a regular check for changing conditions.
  • Dress properly. Always dress for the weather, wearing layers if cooler weather, and bring an extra set of clothes in case you get wet.
  • Always file a float plan. File a float plan with someone you trust that includes details about the trip, boat, persons, towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment and emergency contacts. Find out more at floatplancentral.org.
  • Don’t drink while you boat. Where the primary cause was known, alcohol was listed as a leading factor in boating-related deaths. Find out more at operationdrywater.org.

The Great Miami, Stillwater, and Mad rivers offer many paddling, rowing, and power boating opportunities. Our water trail maps take you to public access sites. And be sure to review the safety tips on the back of our maps.

A little preparation can go a long way in creating paddling adventures and memories.

National Safe Boating Week is May 22-28

Cold-water immersion a springtime danger, too

By Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Ph.D., manager of watershed partnerships

Many people think about the dangers of cold-water immersion when the temperatures begin to turn cooler in the fall. But springtime can create a false sense of security because while the air may be warm, the water may not be. And if you capsize, the “cold shock” can lead to drowning.

Cold Shock
Falling into cold water can cause your body to react in a few ways:

Gasping for breath and rapid breathing. Oftentimes when someone falls in a river or lake, the cold water can cause an involuntary gasping reflex, leading to a drowning emergency. It can also create rapid breathing and hyperventilation.

Heart and blood pressure problems. Cold water can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to spike, increasing the chance for heart failure or stroke in some people.

Cognitive impairment. The shock of the cold water can create panic for some. The fear and stress can keep you from thinking clearly and making good decisions. The longer you’re in the water, the greater the chance of hypothermia, which can further reduce your decision-making abilities.

Keep in mind that the water doesn’t have to be super cold to trigger cold shock. Gasping for a breath or rapid breathing from sudden immersion can be triggered by water as warm at 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Be Prepared
Follow these other safety tips to protect yourself when paddling.

  • Always wear your life jacket.
  • Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperatures.
  • Wear a wet suit or dry suit if the air temperature is at or below 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Always file a float plan with someone you trust.

Physical Incapacitation
Once you’ve been immersed in cold water for several minutes, you may have a loss of muscular control in your arms, hands, legs and feet. Losing the ability to use your hands and feet make self-rescue more challenging. Loss of muscular control could make it more difficult to keep your head above water. If you’re not wearing a life jacket, your chance of survival becomes minimal.

Beyond the initial cold shock, after the first one to three minutes of immersion, a person’s body temperature will continue to drop. Hypothermia begins to set in at a body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, increasing the risk of drowning. Your body temperature can continue to drop even after you’re out of the water, so be sure to find a warm, dry place.

Wear It!
Want to give yourself a fighting chance in a cold-water immersion or any other emergency situation on the water? Wear your life jacket! It significantly increases your chances of survival.

Review our river maps and more safety tips

Tait Station low dam removal begins today

By Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Ph.D., manager for watershed partnerships

The project to remove the Tait Station low dam begins today. Here are the latest details on the project.

Q: Why is the Tait Station low dam being removed?
The low dam is being removed for several reasons:

  • To improve the quality of the river and make better habitat for bugs and fish.
  • To eliminate a clear and present threat to public safety for those who enjoy recreational use of the Great Miami River.
  • To avoid costly repairs that are far higher than any benefit the low dam provides.

Q: Where is the dam located?
Tait Station low dam is located in Dayton, Ohio on the Great Miami River at River Mile 76.6  just downstream of the University of Dayton Arena and the Carillon Historical Park.

Q: What are the benefits to removing the low dam?
Removing the low dam will improve the ecological conditions for aquatic life, improve river safety, reduce maintenance costs, improve river recreation access, and improve the scenic beauty of the Great Miami River.

Q: How big is the dam?
The low dam is approximately 600 feet in length. The low dam is a concrete structure with flashboards across the crest to maintain the pool level above the concrete spillway.

Tait Station low dam


Q: What will the river look like after the dam is removed?
Hydraulic modeling of the Great Miami River after the dam is removed shows that the water depths will be only slightly lower than current conditions. A new rock structure, called a riffle, will be created across the river channel to enhance fish habitat.

Q: Who owns the dam?
The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) owns the low dam. Tait Station was constructed around 1935 by Dayton Power and Light. The dam was originally constructed to provide cooling water to support power plant production. The power plant was decommissioned in 1983. Ownership of the low dam transferred to MCD in 1990.

Q: Does the dam provide flood protection for Dayton?
The low dam does not provide flood protection, however the low dam area is located within MCD’s flood protection area. Levees are present on both sides of the river.

Q: How much would it cost to repair the dam?
The cost estimate to repair the low dam is between $5 and $8 million.

Q: How much will it cost to remove the low dam?
The total estimate cost to remove the low dam is about $1.75 million.

Q: Who is paying for the dam to be removed?
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is fully funding the project as a mitigation solution for unavoidable stream impacts in the Great Miami River Watershed.

Q: When will the project be complete?
October of this year, depending on weather and unforeseeable conditions.

Q: Who are the project partners?
ODOT is providing project funding, design, permitting, engineering and construction. MCD is providing technical support, background data, site access, funding and support for the project. The City of Dayton, Department of Water is providing utility coordination and utility relocation. DP&L is providing utility coordination and site access.

For questions or more information contact:
Sarah Hippensteel Hall, PhD
Manager, Watershed Partnerships

Regional trails draw worldwide attention

By Angela Manuszak, Special Projects Coordinator

Many everyday items that make life easier were invented in the Dayton region. The airplane. The pop-top can. The cash register. Dayton is also home to some pretty amazing, more natural creations, too, namely, our rivers – and the hiking and biking trails near them. And while our trails don’t get the same attention as the airplane or the cash register, our regional trails are about to get noticed in a big way.

The American Trails’ International Trails Symposium heads to the Dayton region, May 7-10. The ITS is a biennial symposium that brings together the worldwide trails community to experience regional trails and advocate for the economic and environmental power of trails.

But what’s so special about our rivers and trails?

With 340 miles of trails to explore, this region boasts the largest, paved trail network in the country

Contiguous land ownership

MCD owns extensive and contiguous riverfront land in cities along the Great Miami River as part of its flood protection system. It also preserved floodplains at each of its five dry dams. Upstream of each dam are vast tracts of land meant to flood occasionally so downstream cities don’t. MCD’s first chief engineer, Arthur Morgan, persuaded the MCD Board of Directors to open thousands of acres of the “retarding basins” to the public.

Today, each dam’s forested greenspaces are wrapped with hiking trails, traversed by bike trails, dotted with picnic areas, then splashed with river launch ramps – all managed in partnership with county park districts, especially Five Rivers MetroParks.

In the 1970s, a grassroots effort to build a paved, connected trail on MCD’s riverfront property led to the first major segment of trail – an 8-mile loop on both banks of the Great Miami River in Dayton. While flood protection remains the highest purpose of the land, trails are a compatible use that has transformed our region. The Great Miami River Bike Trail now has a total of nearly 80 miles completed, and new sections will be constructed before 2020. Other trails – built by MCD partners and colleagues — radiate like bike wheel spokes from Dayton in every direction.

The Buckeye Trail is one of many hiking trails throughout the region.

Every year the trail network’s fame grows. MCD’s trails:

  • Host part of the North Country and Buckeye trails.
  • Have been named National Recreation Trails.
  • Are designated to carry part of US Bike Route 50 across the state.

Connect several sites of the National Aviation Heritage Area.

The Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad rivers, along with Greenville, Buck and Twin creeks are the only nationally designated water trail in Ohio and one of only 22 in the country. The Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad rivers also are a state designated water trail.

State and national designated water trails

Our rivers are getting plenty of attention, too. Last year, the Great Miami, Mad and Stillwater rivers along with Greenville, Buck and Twin creeks were designated the first and only National Water Trail in the state of Ohio. The national water trail designation by the U.S. Department of Interior is given only to those water trails that are exemplary. The Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad rivers also are state-designated water trails.

Soon the world will know
With all of the amazing trails nearby, no wonder American Trails chose the Dayton region for its 2017 ITS. We are proud to join the list of celebrated trail cities that have hosted this conference in the past, including: Portland, Oregon; Tucson; Chattanooga; Austin; and Orlando. We hope you will join us for the symposium or one of the related events open to the public. Go to americantrails.org to learn more.


Great Miami River: Is the water safe for recreation?

By Mike Ekberg, Manager for Water Resources Monitoring and Analysis

Do you like to canoe, kayak, or row on the Great Miami River? Have you ever flipped your boat and ended up soaked with a mouthful of river water? Did you worry about getting sick?

River users frequently ask me,  “Is the water safe?”

The answer is yes, in most cases.

e. coli

E. coli bacteria

Bacteria levels can be a problem
Just like in most lakes and rivers, bacteria can be a problem. Bacteria levels from fecal contamination in the Great Miami River are a bad news/good news situation. The bad news is the levels tend to spike after it rains. The good news is the bacteria tend to die off quickly.

Keep in mind that even after a good rain, the risk of exposure to bacteria is likely to be low unless you swim in or drink the river water. For most people, paddling or rowing is a relatively low-risk activity.

Bacteria can get into the river from a variety of sources including poorly functioning septic systems, pet waste, streets, sidewalks, storm sewers, and farm fields. In the Great Miami River and its tributaries, Ohio EPA sets water-quality standards and measures recreation water quality based on a group of bacteria known as Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Ohio EPA evaluated bacteria levels in the Great Miami River in 2009 and 2010. The results showed average bacteria concentrations exceeded state standards at more than half of the sampling sites. MCD evaluated E. coli levels in the Great Miami River in 2012 and also found frequent occurrences of the bacteria.

Elevated E. coli levels and rainfall are related
As little as 0.30 inches of rain can raise E. coli levels in the Great Miami River, according to MCD’s study. But bacteria levels can return to safe levels in as little as 48 to 72 hours after a rainfall. Water samples collected 72 or more hours after rain often showed very low levels of E. coli and met state standards.

Dry weather minimizes risk
The best way to minimize your exposure to bacteria in the Great Miami River is to enjoy it during days of dry weather. If, however, you have open wounds, skin infections, or have a compromised immune system, consult your physician before taking part in any river recreation, and use caution.    

Forecasting safety
Using the relationship among rainfall, river flow, turbidity and E. coli, it’s possible to predict safe or unsafe river recreation conditions. Technology now allows for water-quality forecasting. Check out Ohio Nowcast, a web forecasting service for beaches on Lake Erie.

Preliminary planning is under way for MCD to develop a forecasting app for the Great Miami River. Two years of sampling will be needed before the app can be up and running.