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Otter kicks off canal safety campaign, warns parents, kids of hazards

Gov. Butch Otter kicked off an expanded canal safety campaign today, joining agriculture groups, Idaho Power, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, state broadcasters and more to launch a series of TV and radio ads and an expanded public education effort. “We have thousands of miles of canals in the state of Idaho,” Otter said. “They’re essential to our ag economy. … They can also be extremely deadly.”

Irrigation canals are cold, deep and swift, and often have nearly vertical banks, making it difficult for anyone who falls in to escape. They also have dangerous undertows and turbulence. Each year, a half dozen children and adults drown in Idaho canals, according to state figures; more children drown in canals every year in Idaho than in any other body of water.

“We need everybody to be aware of that, especially parents,” the governor declared.

Otter is featured on three 30-second TV commercials, including one targeted at children in which he appears with the cartoon character “Otto Otter.” Responding to the cartoon otter, the governor says, “Take it from this Otter – canals can kill. … This summer stay cool, but don’t use canals as your pool.” The ads start running throughout southern Idaho tomorrow.

The commercials also urge parents to keep kids away from canals, and urge pet owners to keep their pets out of the fast-running waterways. The campaign also includes an “Otto Otter” coloring book that will be distributed to children in school classrooms and that includes a Spanish-language version; a Spanish-language radio ad also will air.

Various groups conduct canal safety campaigns in southern Idaho each year and Otter has been involved with some of them in the past; this year, he pulled all the players together for a coordinated campaign that he estimated is worth $100,000, most of it in in-kind donations. “Every year we lose lives to these canals, so we’re going to do everything we can to help avoid that,” Otter said. “These canals are vital to our economy, but they can also be dangerous.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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