With the recent near record high temperatures, people have been taking to the local lakes and rivers for a reprieve from the heat. Unfortunately, the canals have also been an attraction for the same reasons, but the problem is that it is both unsafe and illegal to enter them for any reason.
The canals are off-limits for good reasons. First, once in the canal, it can be very difficult to get out because of the typically steep walls. The water volume and flow is a significant danger in particular. The canals are too deep to stand up in and how fast the water flows makes standing up nearly impossible in any event. Kids, in particular are in great danger because their smaller size works against them and they may not have the swimming or survival skills necessary to deal with the dangers of canal water.
The cold water in canals is a danger as well, as it has the ability to quickly zap a person's energy and make them too weak to get out or try to get away from a siphon area. The weather may be hot this time of year, but water in the canals is typically very cold from snow melt and will take months to get much warmer. There are also underwater hazards such as shopping carts, discarded furniture, appliances and other items that have been illegally deposited in the canals. One other less thought about issue is that while the water may appear clear and inviting, it may contain pesticides, other toxins, and even the harmful chemicals of "meth lab dumps" from illegal/clandestine drug labs. It is also possible to ingest feces from animals and humans while swimming in canal water, which can lead to serious illnesses resulting from E.coli and similar germs.
The irrigation canals that are in our area are somewhat unique to the Central Valley of California. The fact that they are open and often easily accessible leads to accidental drowning incidents every year in this region. Kids are often the hapless victims, so it is especially important that parents make sure that they prohibit them from going near or in the canals. Furthermore, since canals always have the potential for being fallen into, swimming skills are a must for persons of all ages. Most cities offer swim lessons through their recreation departments, as well as local dive shops, fitness gyms, and through the Infant Swimming Resource. In my view, all children should learn how to swim since it is a critical life skill. At the same time, canal safety should be emphasized to include the fact that swimming in canals is prohibited from a practical and legal perspective.