Despite some theories that visitors tread in deeper, more unpredictable waters when the lake drops far below full pool, drownings don’t go up as the water drops, said Billy Birdwell, the spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Savannah District.
From 2003 through July, the reservoir averaged 2.5 drownings annually, according to data provided by the Corps, which controls Thurmond Lake.
Drownings are so few that it is difficult to analyze data for constant variables, Birdwell said.
“We want to find a correlation. We want to know what triggers a drowning,” he said.
Capt. Mark Padgett, a regional supervisor for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ law enforcement division, said it’s difficult to say whether any one factor contributes to higher drowning rates.
“There are some dangers with low water, but it all goes back to common sense,” Padgett said.
During several recent years of drought, low water levels left shorelines exposed, boat ramps unusable and man-made beaches unattractive to visitors. This year, above-average rainfall patterns brought the reservoir back to full pool of 330 feet above sea level.
Two drownings have occurred at Thurmond Lake in 2013. Over the past 10 years, drownings peaked at five in 2008, when water levels were low.
However, water levels remained low for most of 2009, when only one drowning occurred. In 2012, another year for low water levels, there were two drownings.
The Corps has studied drowning reports for variables including age, gender, ethnicity, time of day and time of year, Birdwell said. Drownings are as likely to occur in February as in July, he said.
When considering age and gender, the greatest number of drownings involve men ages 18 to 45, but Birdwell said that does not consider whether more men in that age bracket visit the lake.
Across Georgia, drowning numbers have been fairly constant in the past 10 years, Padgett said. Georgia waters claim between 40 to 50 lives from drowning each year.
“Thus far, we’ve had about 21 for the year and the water’s as high as it’s ever been,” he said.
Padgett and Birdwell said the best safeguard against drowning is practicing water safety. Wearing a lifejacket and monitoring alcohol consumption can save lives, they said.