In the midst of nationwide aquatic budget cutting, drownings are on a dramatic upswing this summer. Data is still being compiled, but researchers say the most likely victims are still toddlers and young people.

U.S. doctors say children under age 5 and those between ages 15 and 24 have the highest drowning rates, according to recent reports. In Texas, as of mid July, at least 60 children had drowned. The state only began tracking the numbers in 2005, but if that pace continues, it will surpass last year’s record of 82 child drowning deaths. The majority of the state’s recent drowning victims have been unsupervised toddlers.

“We’re having a rough time watching little kids drown for no reason other than lack of adult supervision,” said Jeremy Smith, president of the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association’s Mid Cities DFW Chapter.

By the end of July, a significant number of drowning incidents had also occurred in Arizona and Southern California’s Inland Empire region. Riverside County, east of Los Angeles reported 41 drowning incidents with six fatalities – five children and one adult – and Maricopa County reported that nine children under age 12 had drowned.

“It has been very alarming for us,” said Olivia Ballesteros, director of Riverside County Injury Prevention Services.

In response her agency and others have ramped-up water safety programs.

Likewise, IPSSA has called for stronger water safety education. In Texas, the organization has partnered with the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas to sponsor events and produce educational materials including mock drownings, bilingual presentations, safety brochures and coloring books.

“We encourage every layer of protection you can imagine, [and] we encourage swim lessons as soon as possible,” said Smith, adding, “I want to see the pool industry move to [be] a proactive water safety advocate.”

Although experts can’t say for sure what may be causing the increased number of drownings – it may be combination of factors – several suggest that the economy may have something to do with it.

“People may be staying at home more, utilizing home or community pools more, so bather load could be up. Also, the financial challenges at different government agencies mean staffing may be at a lower level,” said Johnny Johnson, president of the NDPA and the Swim for Life Foundation, and director of the Blue Buoy Swim School in Tustin, Calif.

Johnson agrees that final numbers for 2009 will reveal a marked increase in drowning incidents and the economy could be a contributing factor in a number of ways, but adds, “in the end, it still comes down to underlying causes. They’re still the same.”