In today’s workplace, employee and customer safety is job number 1. Irrigation districts are no different. With miles of canals, fast-flowing water, heavy machinery, potent chemicals, and the potential for isolated working conditions, irrigation district managers must contend with a number of challenges to ensure the safety of their workers and the people they serve.

We begin our safety issue in Arizona, where the intersection of robust housing growth and active irrigation canals and ditches has necessitated embracing a culture of safety and innovation. The Salt River Project (SRP) delivers water to residents in the greater Phoenix area via 131 miles of canals. With maintenance roads on each side of those canals, there are numerous points of entry into canals.

SRP, however, has come up with a unique approach to safety: It has made the canals a community asset, creating recreational opportunities along its canals for Phoenix residents. Mike Patrick, who directs water facility construction and maintenance activities for SRP, brings a common-sense approach to canal safety that has enabled SRP to make the most of its water transmission infrastructure. Mr. Patrick sums up SRP’s safety program with three basic practices: ”One, conduct regular reviews of the system to identify and correct potential safety hazards. Two, train your employees to look for and report safety hazards. And finally, install barriers at high-risk facilities.“

Just east of Phoenix, in and around the rapidly growing town of Gilbert, the Roosevelt Water Conservation District (RWCD) takes a different approach. General Manager Shane Leonard explained, “The public perception is that canals are the closest things we have to rivers and the activities rivers would provide for under normal circumstances. People want to walk their dog along the edge, sit on the bank to reflect on the workday, or fish in the canal, but these are the very activities that pose a tremendous safety risk. A canal system is not conducive to both public entertainment and public safety as a matter of routine design.” Mr. Leonard preaches diligence and positive interaction with the community to steer people to safer alternatives to activities along the RWCD canals.

In Idaho’s sprawling communities of Nampa and Meridian, the challenge is similar to that in the greater Phoenix area. There are hundreds of miles of canals and ditches and numerous points of entry. For Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District Secretary-Treasurer Daren Coon, canal safety is imperative and personal. “It is imperative that we continue to spread the public safety message to all who will listen. Parents and children must look at canals the same way they do an interstate highway and know to stay out. I am entirely too familiar with tragedy involving irrigation ditches, and I look forward to the year that the tragedies end.”

In this issue, we also hear from Elephant Butte Irrigation District’s Human Resources and Safety Director Delyce Maciel about employee safety for irrigation districts. She said, “At the end of the day, our goal is to ensure that employees stay safe and go home to their families.” That is also the message of Philip Ball and Dave Blodget, who discuss personal safety and herbicide application safety, respectively.

Mr. Ball cuts to the core of the issue when it comes to workplace safety. “Good leaders respect and care for the people they oversee.” That kind of leadership drives safety for irrigation districts.

Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at