Our View, irrigation canals: Idahoans should heed water danger

May 29, 2013 

manwill

The New York Canal is shown less than four-tenths of a mile from the Oak Park Village Apartments.

CHRIS BUTLER — Idaho Statesman

The life-giving water conveyance systems we call canals can turn deadly when unsuspecting children and even curious or careless adults are lured to them for innocent recreational thrills.

Historically the deaths spike when school lets out and temperatures begin to rise.

We hope this is the year Idahoans will take to heart warnings to stay clear of canals that serve to deliver and distribute water for agriculture and other purposes. The danger and temptation surrounds some 80 canals and drains that meander for 500 miles across Ada and Canyon counties.

There were deaths last year when the weather turned warm and people sought refuge in the cool canal waters. Two men in their 40s perished in July and August. Some out-of-state deaths were attributed to electrocution surrounding the tragic circumstances of people trying to rescue a pet from a canal. It took authorities nearly three years to recover and identify the body of a 19-year-old man who disappeared in 2006 while playing in a Gem County canal.

Beginning today, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter will participate in public service announcements warning about the dangers canal waters pose to Idahoans. According to Otter, businesses and water and utility agencies with a stake in Idaho's irrigation systems helped fund the campaign "to leverage additional airings of the PSAs aimed at parents, children, adults and pet owners." The ads will air on programs targeting each demographic group, and also will be carried by Spanish language radio stations.

What victims and their surviving loved ones discover - usually too late - is that the swift-moving waters can carry people of all sizes hundreds of feet downstream in no time. Though not always terribly deep, the canal water is very cold and can hide vegetation and hazards that can drag people under strong currents. The canal sides, designed to convey water, make it almost impossible to climb out.

The life-saving advice is simple. Don't go near the canals, and especially don't go in them thinking you want to just cool off for a moment on a hot summer day. These bodies of water can be fatal, and especially to young children.

We hope the summer of 2013 - and every future summer - can be the turning point, the years to look back on when we can say: "That was the year Idahoans began to heed the warnings. They took precautions, and no one was lost in a canal."

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