Officials warn of canal dangers as flows increase due to mountain runoff

Story by Chris Oswalt, Local News 8

REXBURG, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) – Eastern Idaho canals are filling up and they are flowing faster than normal because of high mountain runoff.

“It is a real concern for us,” Madison Fire Chief Corey Child said.

Child said canals can be deceiving, appearing to be flowing slowly; however, the chief said canals tend to run 3 to 4 miles per hour.

Two weeks ago, a Rexburg child fell into a fast-moving canal behind a home on the 600 block of Johnson Street. Missy Pocock noticed the child floating in the canal face down. She jumped in and pull the child out of the water, saving the young child’s life.

Child could not talk specifics of the rescue. He said 911 was not called.

“People act according to their own instincts and many times I applaud them for that but certainly safety first,” Child said.  “Don’t put yourself in harm’s way. We don’t want two deaths or three deaths. 911 is the first call that should be made before attempting any rescue or assistance so that we can assistance on the way.”

Child calls the full canals throughout Eastern Idaho an attraction for children. Idaho ranks second in the nation for unintentional drownings for children 1 year to 5, according to the Center for Disease Control. Idaho Health and Welfare says canals and irrigation ditches are the second most commonplace for those drownings. Kids don’t have to be in the water to fall victim.

“Something as simple as a headgate,” Child said. “Kids love to play on a headgate but the tragedies that come from one little mishap is saddening.”

The CDC says everyone can play a role in reducing child drownings by increasing supervision. The CDC says 75 percent of child drownings are the result of the lack of adult supervision for 5 minutes or less.

“In a matter of two minutes you can turn and look away and you wouldn’t be able to see your child because they would have floated the canal or down the river,” Child said. “If you are going to be on the water this summer, this spring, put your water hat on and do some water safety training.”

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare provides several tips to stay safe when around water, including always wearing a lifejacket, no matter your age.

The DHW also offers these tips on its website:


  • take swimming lessons
  • learn to float and tread water
  • swim in life-guarded areas
  • have parental/adult supervision
  • avoid swimming while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs

The department says 52 percent of drownings in Idaho between 1998 and 2007 occurred in the summer. During that same time period, 38 children died from an accidental drowning.

Child says as we continue to experience a rise in temperatures, the water level of canals will increase because of runoff. Over the weekend, members of fire departments across Eastern Idaho took place in a swift water rescue drill. Child said the training was invaluable to making sure first responders are prepared to make a rescue when called out.