Think Safety While Having Fun in Idaho Waters: May is National Water Safety Month

May 24, 2024
IDHW Communications

National Water Safety month has been recognized for the past 20 years every May to bring awareness on how to stay safe in and around water.  Idaho ranks ninth in the United States for deaths by drowning. This is a statistic we want to greatly improve. It is never too late to learn how to swim! Organizations such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), United States Masters Swimming, and others offer discounted or free swim lessons for children and adults.

Whether you are tubing down the Boise River with friends or on a boat at Lucky Peak, it is always wise to wear a United States Coast Guard Certified floatation device in case you fall into the water unexpectedly. In Idaho we have an abundance of lakes, streams, and rivers to recreate in, but swimming, playing, or wading in our canals are not only dangerous but illegal.

Every spring when the snowpacks begin to melt, Idaho rivers, streams, and canals fill with more water quickly.  Spring also brings warmer weather and outdoor activities such as water recreation. So, enjoy the warmer months that are upon us by playing it safe while in the water with your friends and family.  

Canal Safety

The water in canals serve an important purpose in Idaho as they help provide irrigation to approximately 69,000 acres of agricultural and residential lands. Canals are not only a swimming hazard, but also carry bacteria and parasites that are harmful to humans. 

Canals are a tempting place to cool off because they are often convenient to access in our neighborhoods, but they are also very dangerous. The range of water depth in our canals is between 1 and 10 feet and many have steep, vertical banks made of smooth concrete that can be slippery and make exiting a canal difficult.  No adult, child, or pet should ever swim or play near a canal. More children drown in canals than any other body of water in Idaho.

Canal water can be deceptively fast as there are no obstructions in the waterway to slow the current or provide visual projections on how fast the water is moving. The water in canals is also very cold and can cause hypothermia and death in as little as 10 minutes.

The Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District (NMID) estimates water flows at the Ridenbaugh Canal in Boise travel about 3 miles per hour at 4.5 feet per second. An example was provided by the NMID as a public safety announcement in 2012 when a child’s shoe was dropped into the canal to show visually how fast water travels. In just two minutes, the shoe traveled 540 feet and within 5 minutes, it was nearly a quarter mile away from where the shoe was originally dropped.

Most canals run through private property so playing in a canal or along its banks is trespassing under Idaho law. Each year, police, fire, and EMS personnel respond to distress calls in our local canals and it is difficult for emergency personnel to access them.

Splash pads

Splash pads are great water activities for children, but the water can become contaminated and shouldn’t be swallowed. Don't sit or stand directly on the jets, as this can contaminate the water with germs. Don’t allow children to swallow splash pad water because they can ingest germs that can make them sick. Although most splash pads use chlorine in their water systems, it doesn’t kill germs instantly:

Going to the pool

Going for a swim with kids? Take a break every hour to use the bathroom or check diapers to avoid accidents in the pool. When pee and chlorine mix in the pool, there is less chlorine available to kill germs:

Check out some healthy swimming tips to protect yourself and those you care about from illness at the pool and beach this summer:

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at

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