Lively and in-depth discussions of city news, politics, science, entertainment, the arts, and more.
Hosted by Larry Mantle
Airs Weekdays 10 am - 12 pm

If swimming is the only sport that can save your life, why are pools closing?

Image of the $20-million City of Commerce Aquatic Center.
Image of the $20-million City of Commerce Aquatic Center.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

Listen to story

Download this story 14MB

The height of summer conjures images of long lazy days lying by the pool or ocean, dipping in and having fun when the heat gets too much. But the water can be one of the most dangerous places to be – if you don’t know how to swim.

According to a 2012 report from the Center for Disease Control, drowning is the fifth leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Ten people lose their lives to the water every day and one in five drownings are children aged 14 and under. When it comes to minorities, African American children aged 5-14 drown at three times the rate of whites, with a similar statistic for Latino youth.

Access to local pools, swimming lessons and a lack of interest and knowledge of water based sports all add to the rising drowning rates.

Southern California isn’t immune to this problem; the recession, budget cuts and costs associated with maintaining aquatic facilities has led to reduced hours in some areas and the closure of swim teams and pools in others.

However, the City of Commerce has bucked the trend — investing millions in a state of the art aquatic center, which has produced Olympic athletes in water polo.

"If you look around the City of Commerce, unlike most cities that have a residence of 13,000, you'll see that we have a lot of recreation facilities here," said Scott Wasserman of City of Commerce Parks & Recreation. "We have four parks, four community centers, senior center, teen center, we have a year-round camp up in Lake Arrowhead, and of course we have a well-known $20 million aquatic facility."

Brenda Villa is one such Olympian who was bred from Commerce's aquatic program.

Swimming lessons and access to aquatic sports are offered to local residents in the City of Commerce for no and low cost, to promote water safety, fitness and overall health. Other cities struggle to keep facilities open for more than a few weeks a year.

"I think that that commitment to offer swim lessons in a low-income community to residents that perhaps might otherwise would find it difficult finding this service, we feel very, very good about that," said Wasserman.

Weigh In

What access do you have to swimming facilities in your local area? As a parent are you concerned about your child’s ability to swim? Should local government officials make swimming safety and access to pools a priority?


Lilia Leon, Mayor of the City of Commerce
Pamela Wasserman, Director of Recreation and Community Services, City of Bell Gardens
Jeff Wiltse, Author of Contested Waters and Assistant Professor of History, University of Montana