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As reported here yesterday, the Logan Northern Canal failed on Saturday and one house was obliterated by mud and debris. The three people in the home at the time of the failure, Jackeline Leavey, Victor Alanis and Abbey Alanis, were missing and presumed dead as recently as this morning. But today recovery workers located the bodies of Jackeline and Abbey; the search for Victor continues. The most pressing question now is was the failure preventable?

According to an article that appeared today in the Salt Lake Tribune, Logan City received repeated warnings that the canal posed dangers to area residents and the City not only failed to act on those warnings, officials also failed to warn residents who may be in harm’s way. It appears that the City committed staff and resources to canal maintenance and that officials knew that there were cracks in walls of the canal, but they still left oversight and decision making to the Logan and Northern Irrigation Company, a collection of approximately 800 private water shareholders that own and operate the canal.

The company was allowed to inspect and make decisions about the canal despite a history of landslides caused by it. And notably, Mark Nielsen, Logan Public Works Director, has publicly admitted that there are no meaningful standards that the company must meet. And one past official of the company expressed strong concern about the safety of the canal. Jess Harris, former board member and later president of the company, looked into laying steel pipe in the worst part of the canal to address concerns. At the time, 1998, implementing the plan would have cost in the neighborhood of $300,000 and the company decided against it. Instead, the canal owners have relied on patch jobs. We can see how that turned out.

One significant problem is that canal water masters, the company officials charged with monitoring the canals for problems and responding to reported concerns, are not paid well and have no training. Utah State University, coincidentally located in Logan, has expressed interest in developing a training and certification program for water masters, but to date there is nothing in place. The tragedy which occurred on Saturday demonstrates that it is high time for consistent, appropriate, monitoring and maintenance to prevent future failures.

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