Oakland County Sheriff's deputies patrol Cass Lake as part of Operation Dry Water

Posted at 10:00 PM, Jul 04, 2024

KEEGO HARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — On Thursday, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office was out in full force patrolling nearly 20 lakes in the county, as part of "operation dry water."

The annual national enforcement campaign began July 4 and runs through July 6th, targeting impaired drivers on the water in hopes of limiting the number of alcohol and drug related boating accidents.

It’s all hands on deck this 4th of July out on Cass Lake, as all day long both by boat and by land, deputies keep their eyes peeled on the water.

Lieutenant Brian Burwell says a good majority of boating accidents happen over 4th of July weekend, especially when alcohol is involved.

“So they’re looking for reckless behavior, reckless operation,” Burwell said of the deputies on the water. "People drink a little more than they think they do, and they sometimes don't realize they’re under the influence and affected and that's when these accidents happen... Michigan law allows them to have a drink while operating a boat, you just can't be over the limit.”

Out of 450 county lakes, Cass Lake is one of 5 priority lakes. It's also one of the busiest in Oakland County. All it takes is one look at the sandbar to see why.

Burwell says 3,000- 4,000 people congregate there. Patrolling the party from the water and watching with binoculars from shore, deputies kept a close eye on the sandbar. Last year, first responders had a number of medical runs from underage drinkers, according to Keego Harbor Mayor Rob Kalman. |Nearby residents were happy to see the large law enforcement presence.

“I've never seen this before, this is a huge presence,” said Sherrie Singer who lives across the street from the sandbar. “As a boater, we just want to make sure everyone is super safe with our family and our friends and everything.”

“You'd think that some of the residents would be concerned about having a police presence out here," Kalman said. "We have more people thanking us for having the sheriff on the water on Cass Lake than you’d imagine.”

Kalman says on holidays like the 4th of July, the city’s population can double. Previously the job of patrolloing the lake was done by local police, but now Keego Harbor contracts with the sheriff’s office to patrol the lake. It's all paid for by a grant.

"When they have resources, it's better for us, better for the residents and better for the visitors of our community,” Kalman said.

During our ride we saw a few boaters pulled over, but both were given verbal reminders instead of tickets. The Sheriff's office says the main goal with Operation Dry Water is safety.

“We don't call in the sheriff to write tickets, it's about preventing problems,” Kalman said.

“It's not about how many tickets are handed out, it's about the contacts and educating the public,” said Lt. Burwell.