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John Hollenhorst ReportingLawmakers in Washington today took action on a bill that could save lives in Utah. It could pave the way for a 100-million-dollar project to seal off a canal that's claimed more than a dozen lives.
For more than a hundred years the Murdock Canal has been delivering water and taking lives.
Keith Denos, Provo River Water Users Association: "I've heard that it's around 14 over the life of the canal."
The canal moves Provo River water to Utah County for farming and to Salt Lake County for drinking. In between, people, especially kids, are drawn to it. Much of the canal isn't even fenced by government agencies.
Debbie McKay, Pleasant Grove: "We put the fence in as soon as we moved in. That was our number one priority."
Many of the 14 who drowned over the years were children, but others were adults, including a hang-glider who was sucked into a pipe and two SCUBA diving brothers who drowned together last year.
The big problem? Development has brought more people closer.
Keith Denos: "Years ago my maintenance folks tell me that there was only a couple hundred folks above the canal. Now there's tens of thousands along the length of the canal."
Now, agencies agree the canal should be fully enclosed somehow.
Keith Denos: "We haven't really decided yet. It will probably be either a pipe or a concrete box-culvert."
One of the advantages of enclosing the canal is that it would save water by reducing seepage and evaporation.
Now a US House subcommittee has voted unanimously to transfer ownership of the canal from the federal government to local agencies. In a bizarre twist of tax law, that's the only way to get tax-exempt financing for the project.
Keith Denos: "It seems bizarre to me as well, but that's the reality."
The Congressional moves are the best shot ever for accomplishing what some say is long overdue, putting a lid on the Murdock Canal. By changing ownership of the canal and making tax-exempt financing available, they think they can save 20-30 million dollars on the 100-million-dollar project. Work could begin in about three years.