Across the state, Idaho is experiencing record spring run-off from a historic winter season snowpack, causing rivers and streams to run fast and full. To help water managers reduce the risk of flooding, many irrigation canals have opened early. So, it’s a good time to talk about canal safety and drowning prevention.
What’s the best way to stay safe around irrigation canals?
That’s simple: Stay away. Never, ever swim or play in a canal. And that message is not just for children, it’s for adults too. Both children and adults drown each year in Idaho canals, and records from the Idaho Care Line show that more children drown in canals than any other body of water in Idaho annually. In fact, Idaho has the nation’s second highest unintentional drowning rate for children aged 1-to-5.
But canals don’t look dangerous, not the way a whitewater river does. What’s the hazard?
Well, canal water in Idaho frequently comes from river water, so like rivers, it is very cold and swift. The average depth of the water in canals is between 1 and 10 feet, and many canals in Idaho have very steep, vertical banks, sometimes made from smooth concrete. But above all, canal water is deceptively fast – there are no obstructions in the waterway to slow it down, or to provide visual cues to how fast the water is moving.
How fast does canal water move?
In southern Idaho, the Nampa and Meridian Water District maintains the Ridenbaugh Canal, which runs through Boise. The district estimates the normal flow is 3 miles-per-hour or 4.5 feet per second in the canal. But to illustrate what that means when a child has fallen into the water, the district dropped a child’s shoe in the canal and measured its speed of travel. Within two minutes, the shoe had traveled 540 feet and within 5 minutes it was a quarter-mile downstream.
What water safety precautions should we keep in mind?
Whether it is an irrigation canal or a fast-moving, flood-swollen river, stay out of the water. Drowning is swift and silent, people tend to drown without attracting any attention. Their struggle to breathe and stay afloat does not give them a chance to yell or wave their arms.
When it comes to children, close supervision of children near canals or other bodies of water is an absolute must. If you will be near fast-moving water with small children this time of year, have them wear a personal flotation device. It could be the difference between life and death.
And don’t jump in fast-moving rivers or canals to rescue pets. Instead, call for help. It’s best to keep your dog out of swift water so you’re not faced with putting yourself in danger to rescue your pet.
Any other water safety tips?
Idaho has many spectacular water recreation activities. But in spring and early summer, the water is cold and many rivers are flowing at high levels. Cold water can cause hypothermia and death in as little as 10 minutes. Fast-moving water is dangerous – avoid it as you plan your spring and early summer outdoor trips.
(Note: A Closer Look at Your Health airs at 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the segment from April 18. Join us next week!)