Danger lurks on frozen ponds

Amid freeze, city officials issue warning about ice

Columbus police are warning local residents that area retention ponds are not frozen enough to walk on. That comes after police were called to a report of children playing on one of the ponds in Shadow Creek Farms subdivision.

Police were sent to the subdivision west of Columbus at about 4:30 p.m. Dec. 28 when a resident reported seeing three to four children playing on what appeared to be a frozen retention pond, said Sgt. Alyson Rech, Columbus Police Department spokeswoman.

The caller immediately urged the children to get off the ice, and they complied and were back on the shoreline when police arrived, Rech said.

Officers did talk to the children about the danger, explaining to them that the pond was not frozen and water was visibly moving, she said.

“None of these ponds are frozen over,” she said.

Retention ponds dot the Bartholomew County landscape, commonly placed near subdivisions and business complexes as a way for water to drain off streets, parking lots and property, and collect away from buildings.

The ponds create an especially dangerous dynamic this time of year because the salt-treated snow, slush and water draining into them often prevents the ponds from freezing as they might without the salt, said Jet Quillen, Indiana Department of Natural Resources spokesman.

The Department of Natural Resources encourages local residents to get outdoors and enjoy the winter season, but the need to be careful around retention ponds is paramount, he said.

“Our stance is if you don’t know (how thick the ice is), don’t go,” he said. “You need 4 inches of solid thick ice before it’s considered safe.”

Many retention ponds are designed to never freeze over, he said. Some have fountains to keep the water open and moving, and water fowl such as geese can move the water around, too. Inlets are built into retention ponds that are designed to keep water moving into the pond and making it harder to freeze.

“The dynamics of a retention pond are potentially very dangerous,” he said. “It’s not like a stationary lake.”

While many lakes gradually become deeper the further out someone goes from the shore, retention ponds commonly go from a couple feet deep at the shoreline to 14 or 15 feet deep in an abrupt drop-off, he said.

Anyone considering stepping out on ice should remember that ice does not freeze at the same depth depending on where you are on the surface, he said. While one area might have 4 inches of ice, nearby there may be less than half that.

The Department of Natural Resources recommends using an ice fishing auger to check depth of the ice, and not venturing out on any ice that is less than 4-inches thick, he said.

Another tip is that clear ice is of better quality and often thicker than cloudy or foggy-looking ice, he said.

The DNR and Indiana Department of Homeland Security is sponsoring a first responders training course to respond to ice rescues Jan. 13 at Camp Atterbury, Quillen said.

The training has been conducted in the south-central Indiana area over the past several years after a number of fatal accidents involving individuals falling through ice, he said.

How to help

First responders offer the following safety tips about ice-covered bodies of water.

  • Never leave a child or pet dog unattended around icy bodies of water.
  • Always keep your pets on a leash.
  • If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt to rescue the animal. Call 911 for help.
  • Slush on the surface of a body of water is a danger sign, indicating that ice is no longer freezing from the bottom and can be weak or deteriorating.
  • Ice seldom freezes or thaws at a uniform rate. It can be 1 foot thick in one spot and be only a few inches thick 10 feet away.
  • To help a victim who has fallen through the ice, remember to reach, throw and go. Reach from shore with a rope, pole, ladder, tree branch, jumper cables or similar object. Throw something to keep them afloat such as a life preserver or boat seat cushion. Go to find supplies, help or call 911.

Source: Columbus Fire Department

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.