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Katelyn Collins and her boyfriend saw something unusual Sunday afternoon when they pulled out of their driveway on East Meade Street in Rapid City. 

"We saw a female come out from behind the substation. She was just completely drenched so we didn't know if someone had fallen in" the drainage canal, Collins, 23, said Tuesday while watching her two-year-old son play in an inflatable pool in her yard. 

It turns out someone had fallen into the canal, and it appears the woman jumped in to try to help. 

A 12-year-old boy saved himself after being swept away in the canal and having his head go under water several times around 2:30 p.m. Sunday after an intense thunder storm, according to a news release from the Rapid City Fire Department.

The boy entered the water near the 200 block of East Meade Street and was able to escape about five blocks later near the intersection with Ivy Avenue, just before the canal drops underground.

​"Simply put, this incident could have had a very tragic ending," the fire department said.

The incident has residents living near the canal and the greater Rapid City community wondering what, if anything, can be done to shore up safety. Some say the city should step up and fence off the entire canal to prevent children and animals from drowning. Others say it's the parents responsibility to educate and watch their kids, while a third group says both ideas should be implemented. 

"I could see both sides where the city shouldn't be allowing kids to be going in there because I see kids jumping out of (the canal) all the time ... also I think the parents need to warn them about the safety of that. Those fill up in no time really fast," said Rosalie Luera, a 35-year-old who lives next to a fenced portion of the canal across from the Robbinsdale electrical substation. 

Luera, a mother of three young children, said a fence could also help animals since she and her friends have rescued dogs who've fallen into the canal, which is about five feet deep and 15 feet wide. 

"No matter what the city does, the kids are going to find a way in there" and could jump over the fence, she said. 

Luera said she saw a group of children escape the canal next to her yard last year just before it filled up with a "big rush of water." She let them stay in her garage until their parents picked them up. 

Collins agreed that both the city and parents have a role. 

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Parents need to "pay attention," especially during rainstorms, she said. 

"Obviously when the water levels get that high (the city) should definitely make sure everything's fenced off," Collins said. "As a parent, I know it's hard to watch your kids 24/7. There are moments where you feel you can't keep an eye on everything."

But fencing off the canal would actually make things more dangerous, said Public Works Director Dale Tech.

"Debris will 'hang up' in fencing along drainage channels," Tech said in an email. "This does result in water backup, which can create flooding upstream and create 'strainers' that may trap individuals caught in high water flows. The city encourages people to stay out of drainage structures such as channels and detention ponds at all times and out of Rapid Creek during high water-flow events."

The power company fenced its entire property around the substation, Tech said when asked why part of the canal has a chain-link fence. 

"Looks like they fenced the lot line as a safety measure to keep people from driving or walking into the channel," he said. 

Some residents have added their own chain-link or wooden fences between their yards and the canals. Other yards are separated from the canal by trees and bushes but some yards directly butt up against the drainage. 

Richard Towne, a 61-year-old who's lived in the Robbinsdale neighborhood since 1970 and used to live on East Meade Street, said he thinks the entire canal should be transferred underground in order to prevent flooding and children from getting swept away.

"It was always a safety concern of mine," Towne said in a phone call. "And now it's just proved that one of the kids playing there fell in."

A 2004 study by an engineer recommended that drainage improvements in the area include both underground and above-ground canals, Tech said. He said a $164,272 study approved by the city council in January is again evaluating both kinds of systems. 

"The project goal is to identify drainage improvements that mitigate flood hazards in the neighborhood and prioritize future projects that will have the greatest impact in protecting properties from flooding," Tech said. 

He said the new study, which should be finished by the end of the year, is needed due to changes in FEMA floodplain mapping and new and improved hydraulic methodologies.

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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