This is my third installment in what has become a series on the Logan Northern Canal disaster. As previously reported, the canal failed last Saturday and a landslide completely destroyed a home, killing the three people inside – a mother and her two children. Now that all three bodies have been recovered, the focus is turning to a search for answers and to helping the victims.
The obvious victims are the Leavey family and those they leave behind. Rolando Murillo has been appointed family spokesperson and in a statement he read yesterday, he thanked all those who had contributed to the rescue and recovery efforts for his family. The American Red Cross of Northern Utah is making long-term housing arrangements for residents of six other houses that were rendered uninhabitable by the slide.
Another group of victims that has surfaced are those relying on water from the canal. Farmers already on the economic edge now have no irrigation water for their fields and animals. And there is no remedy in sight according to a Utah State University extension agent who predicts that there will be little or no water in the canal for the remainder of the growing season. Water diversions are a possibility, but there are no good options at this point so the hope is for rain. In addition to individual farms, research at two farms operated by Utah State and a federal Agricultural Research Service bee management study could be compromised.
Since the most recent slide, some Utah lawmakers are expressing interest in establishing governmental oversight over canals. Despite there being tens of thousands of miles of canals in Utah with approximately 1,200 different owners, there is no law that governs how they are built, monitored, maintained or serviced. Moreover, there is no requirement that canal owners maintain insurance although many do.
One lawmaker, however, Lyle Hillyard (R), Logan, is not excited about the possibility of regulation. Although willing to "talk", his position is that the volunteer or low paid water masters are conscientious and concerned with safety and have self-interest in the well being of the canals they monitor. All of that may be true but even if it is, it is obvious that problems persist. And Hillyard himself speaks out of self-interest – he is a shareholder in two water companies. He clearly has a bias and it is not in favor of outside oversight over the canals. The Legislature must, however, take a hard look at implementing canal oversight regulations to protect those potentially in harm’s way.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.