August 11, 2009

Canal safety under scrutiny in Utah

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The dodgeball game of canal safety, and who’s responsible for the more than 6,000 miles of leaky, privately owned canals that thread through Utah’s towns and cities, is finally getting a squad of  umpires – or at least a panel to look over the rules.

The move comes after a woman and her two children were killed last month in a landslide triggered in part by a known-to-be-leaking canal that had already triggered dozens such slides over the past century.

Incoming Gov. Gary Herbert, ordered a panel to brainstorm how best to repair the systems, which have lacked funds to maintain and upgrade them even as the cities they served grew up around them.

To his credit, Herbert also ordered an investigation into the root causes of the fatal slide and canal collapse that killed the three in Logan, something he initially declined to do, and something that local officials, including Logan’s police chief said was not necessary.

How this mess – city officials, who knew the canal was leaking, a statehouse representative responsible for the district, who is himself a shareholder in two water companies, and has said publicly he was concerned about costs associated with regulation, and a privately owned company that had not sought funds for improvements for decades  – doesn’t warrant an investigation is a mystery. The Salt Lake Tribune’s dogged reporting on the situation, including its editorials calling various stakeholders to account likely precipitated today’s attention to fixing a system in collapse.

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