Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibility
Close Alert

Idaho has second-highest rate of canal deaths for children in the nation

File photo
File photo
Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon

NAMPA — This week's death of an 18-month-old boy who drowned in a canal near his Nampa home is a stark reminder of the dangers of something so common in the Treasure Valley that regularly goes unnoticed, according to media partner the Idaho Press-Tribune.

Irrigation canals crisscross the valley, delivering water to farms throughout Canyon County. The Treasure Valley has hundreds of miles of irrigation canals that often make their way through residential neighborhoods and subdivisions, before moving to farmland in more rural parts of the valley. In Ada County and Canyon County alone, a total of 80 canals and drains run for about 500 miles adjacent to a number of homes.

The Treasure Valley isn't unique. Idaho, primarily a high desert climate, relies on these irrigation canals to deliver water so that farmers can grow sugar beets, potatoes, corn and more. According to the National Hydrography Dataset from the U.S Geological Survey, 13,570 miles of irrigation canals and ditches run through the state of Idaho.

Perhaps because of the prevalence of irrigation canals, Idaho has the second-highest rate of canal deaths for children aged 1 to 5 in the country, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Idaho is second only to Florida.

According to the Idaho Governor’s Task Force on Children at Risk, the number of infant deaths from 2011-14 in canals was three. During that time, 20 children aged 1 to 9 died in drowning incidents in Idaho.

Mindy Peper, with the task force on children at risk, said these cases are only the ones that meet the criteria for their annual report, and an investigation into the child's death must be closed before they use it in their report.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that from 2005-14, there were an average of 3,536 accidental drownings annually in the United States, which averages to be about 10 deaths per day.

On Tuesday night, Mason Cunningham, 18 months old, went missing after a family member went to change irrigation at the Nampa home. When Mason could not be located by the family, the father began searching along the Ten Mile Creek canal located about 100 yards from their home.

Mason was found dead four miles downstream in the creek Wednesday morning, according to Canyon County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Bill Adams.

Mason's death is the most recent drowning tragedy, but it is not the first. Another local family lost their own toddler two years ago in April 2015.

Nineteen-month-old Bayler Robins drowned after he went into the canal near Ten Mile Road at the family’s Big D Ranch in Meridian. He was located in the canal and was pronounced dead at the St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Meridian in April 2015.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare stated about “75 percent of child drownings occur because of a lack of supervision for less than five minutes.”

Greg Curtis with the Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District said education is the most important tool regarding safety around canal and irrigation systems.

Curtis said the irrigation districts spend thousands of dollars per year advertising the message about being safe around irrigation ditches and canals.

As part of an effort to promote that safety, the Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District creates commercials regarding safety around irrigation canals. One commercial, aired in 2012, demonstrates how fast the water moves in Ridenbaugh canal, which extends through Boise, Meridian and Nampa. Using a child’s shoe as a prop, the commercial shows how swiftly the shoe travels downstream. The canal was moving at 3 mph when this video was filmed. Within two minutes a “child would be swept 540 feet away,” and in five minutes, a child would be a full quarter mile down the canal where they fell in from.

“Irrigation systems play a vital role in the valley,” Curtis said, “but education is the only thing I can really say about safety tips.”

It’s difficult when incidents like this happen, Curtis said, because “we can’t educate toddlers.”

Loading ...