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"People don't grasp how dangerous canals are "

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Posted at 10:59 AM, May 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-20 13:08:13-04

With area canals now running full, the Nampa and Meridian Irrigation District has launched its annual water safety outreach campaign -- in an effort to prevent drownings in the District’s eighty canals and drains that snake across Ada and Canyon County.

A pair of television public service announcements (produced by KIVI-TV Productions) pointing out the dangers posed by canals, ditches and drains will begin airing on local TV stations Monday, May 23rd. They are scheduled to air until the latter part of August, according to NMID spokesman Daren Coon.

The District will also broadcast a pair of Spanish-language radio PSAs throughout the summer on the area’s Spanish-language stations.

The TV campaign uses two 30-second public service announcements featuring Jessi Huizinga, a Meridian mother of three, who warns viewers that children can die in irrigation canals -- but to not let their children be one of them.

In one PSA, Huizinga points out a canal weed rack and explains that the device in the canal, used to collect trash, is where most drowning victims are found.

In the second PSA, Huizinga demonstrates how -- in just five minutes -- a child in a canal could be swept a full quarter-mile away from where he or she fell in.

“It’s a vital message because Idaho has the second-highest rate of unintentional drownings in the nation for kids up to 5 years of age,” Coon stated.

“Most people just don’t really grasp how dangerous irrigation canals are for children and adults. Research shows the majority of Idaho’s child drownings are the direct result of a lapse in adult supervision of less than five minutes. Our goal is to help parents better comprehend just how deadly that five-minute lack of supervision can be,” he added.

Irrigation canals pose a particularly sinister threat because they have vertical banks and are flowing at 3-5 feet per second, Coon explained. Also, canal water is coming from the bottom of reservoirs at frigid temperatures in the 40-50 degree range that can quickly result in hypothermia.

The potential for canal drowning goes up sharply when school ends and the weather heats up, Coon pointed out. “The District’s ditch-riders are constantly checking their areas, alert for people who may be near or even playing in the canals. Despite the fact that canals are private property, and trespassing is not allowed, the combination of hot weather and cool flowing water can be a powerful but potentially deadly attraction,” he said.

“The hot weather of summer time is generally when we encounter the most number of young people in and around our canals and drains," Coon added. He said it is not unusual for the District's ditch-riders to find people tubing or swimming in the District’s canals, especially the larger Ridenbaugh Canal.