A Richland nurse's campaign to make the Columbia River a little safer for swimmers, kayakers and paddle boarders is heating up along with the weather.
Lisa Bartholomew has gathered 170 signatures on an online petition to ban motorized watercraft from the sliver of the Columbia River that flows between Nelson Island and Leslie Groves Park.
The narrow section of river is not only shallow, it's unpredictable. Bartholomew said declaring it a safety zone would benefit boaters as well as other users.
"It's really not meant for boats anyway," she said.
Carving out the west side of Nelson Island for swimmers and non-motorized watercraft should have little impact on most boaters. The the main stem of the Columbia passes Nelson Island on the Pasco side to the east. Charts indicate depths of 20 feet or more.
Bartholomew has given the petition to the city council. This week, her husband, John, formally requested the city's parks and recreation committee consider the plan, which would involve about a quarter-mile stretch of river. The move is a first step toward proposing the ban to the city council.
If the city agrees to the idea, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and potentially other agencies with authority over the river would consider making it official.
"We hear her," said David McDermott, Natural Resources Manager for the Army Corp's Walla Walla District. McDermott has been working with Bartholomew on the logistics of securing approval through its chain of command.
A Coast Guard spokesman said the request must be submitted through its waterways office, which Bartholomew pledged to do. There would be a public comment period before any final decision, the Coast Guard said.
The Benton County Sheriff's Office, which handles law enforcement on the river, could weigh in as well.
Bartholomew said she was inspired to act last summer when she was stand-up paddle boarding with her adult daughter and a friend. Two power boats skimmed past, just feet away.
"They got way too close," she said. "I don't think boats realize they're putting you in danger."
There's a growing consensus in some quarters that the narrow, shallow side of Nelson Island is unsafe for powerboats.
Gary Scofield, commodore of the Richland Yacht Club, has been tooling the Columbia for decades. The yacht club hasn't taken up the matter, but Scofield said he's happy to give his personal support. As a young man, he once damaged his future father-in-law's boat in the shallows of Nelson Island.
Now he's a State Farm agent who advises his boat owning clients to steer clear of the area, which is so shallow that depths aren't included on official NOAA navigation charts.
At certain times of year, it is shallow enough for people to wade from Leslie Groves to the island. That threatens the stern drives that extend below the hull.
"I think it would be beneficial," he said. "It gives kayakers and paddle boarders a place to do their thing."
Darin Warnick, owner of Richland's Greenies, said a ban sounds good to him.
Greenies rents kayaks during the summer at Howard Amon Park. Customers typically paddle upstream toward Nelson Island when their energy is fresh. After a day of paddling, they float downstream to home base.