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Agencies join in All American Canal safety
The All American Canal may seem like a convenient entry into the United States, but it has been deadly for hundreds of undocumented immigrants trying to swim it to reach this country.
“For years it's been an issue when migrants try to cross the U.S. border by trying to swim across the canal and drown,” said Jennifer McCloskey, manager of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Yuma Area Office.
It's an issue that was heightened with the reconstruction of a 23-mile stretch of the canal west of Yuma, with its concrete lining raising new concerns about the difficulty of someone caught in the canal's treacherous water being able to get out, she said.
Just as that canal reconstruction was a joint effort by several agencies, a new partnership is now focused on saving lives.
Announced Wednesday, federal, state and local agencies representing water resources and international boundary organizations have formed the Canal Safety Awareness Consortium.
The interagency effort focuses on educating and warning the public about the dangers of swimming in the canal and changing the perception of undocumented migrants about the risks of attempting to cross the canal to enter the U.S. from Mexico.
Consortium members include Reclamation's Yuma Area Office, U.S. Border Patrol's El Centro and Yuma sectors, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Imperial Irrigation District, San Diego County Water Authority and the Consulate of Mexico in Calexico, Calif., noted McCloskey.
They're leveraging their resources and expertise to raise awareness of the canal's risks and pursue technical measures to improve safety, she said.
For example, IID in 2008 announced plans to install buoys in the canal, and ladders were placed on the sides of the reconstructed stretch of the canal to help people exit the water.
Plans are to have 130 buoys throughout the system. In addition, 1,400 signs in English and Spanish will be placed along the canal, warning people not to enter the canal.
The consortium's public safety awareness efforts will boost the Human Safety Campaign “Deadly Waters” launched in August 2009 by the Mexican Consulate in partnership with IID and the San Diego County Water Authority.
The campaign message, “Aguas Mortales: No Mueras en el inento” or “Deadly Waters: Don't Die Trying,” is communicated along the border region using posters, fliers, video and a public service announcement. The materials graphically depict what can happen to those who do enter the canal — evidenced by a photograph of a drowning victim floating face down in the water.
In addition, IID and BLM are implementing in-canal safety enhancements, vegetation maintenance efforts and distributing materials to inform recreational users of the Imperial Sand Dunes to avoid the All American Canal.
McCloskey said drownings in the canal are down this year, but that could be the result of various factors such as fewer attempted crossings.
However, she said, interviews of those being held in detention facilities indicate the message is reaching them.
“Even if we save just one, the effort is working,” McCloskey said.
The All American Canal is an 82-mile-long, gravity-flow structure that begins at Imperial Dam on the Colorado River about 20 miles northeast of Yuma. The canal – owned by Reclamation and operated and maintained by IID – primarily serves the Imperial and Coachella valleys in Southern California and annually conveys about 3.5 million acre-feet of water. An acre-foot of water is approximately 326,000 gallons, enough water for about 315,000 people annually.