Doubts, but river signs to be placed

Signs warning against swimming in the Clutha River are likely to be installed before summer but the Clutha Management Committee remains dubious about their merits.

Otago Southland regional coroner David Crerar made the recommendation about warning signs after a 16-year-old Dunedin youth drowned in the river near Roxburgh.

He found Darrell Lee Joseph Walker (16), drowned on October 11, 2008, after getting into difficulties due to the strength of the water flow and undertow. His body has never been found.

Mr Crerar suggested the Central Otago District Council and Otago Regional Council consider placing signs and give publicity to the dangers of swimming in the river.

The committee decided at yesterday's meeting to work with other agencies to investigate placing signs at key access sites along the river and to ask employers to warn seasonal staff of the dangers of the Clutha. It also resolved to support any campaign highlighting the risks of swimming in rivers.

District council chief executive Phil Melhopt said although locals were mostly well aware of the dangers of swimming in the Clutha, visitors to the area might not be so well-informed. He advocated a "double-pronged approach" of water safety programmes and signs along the river.

There were many places where people are exposed to the river "so we have to be realistic, because we can't put a sign at every point".

Contact Energy had signs at certain points highlighting the possibility of changes in river flow. It might be a good idea to include the swimming warning on those signs, he said.

Committee member Tony Lepper said the whole length of the Clutha was dangerous.

"There's no difference between us and the Queenstown-Lakes District or the Clutha district, so why do we need to jump in and do something in this patch? The river is just as dangerous right the way down."

Chairman Gordon Stewart said signs were prone to vandalism and it might be more appropriate to ask employment agencies to advise seasonal workers, in particular, about the dangers of swimming in the Clutha.

"Foreigners might have trouble reading warning signs."

Committee member Clair Higginson said any river was potentially dangerous for swimmers.

"You can always drown in a river, no matter what. That's the tricky thing about having signs."

 

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