U.S. Water News Online
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Washington County Water Conservancy District paid $750,000 to victims' families and survivors who charged a Latter Day Saints church group was not warned about dangerous water releases before a fatal Kolob Creek trek in 1993.
The district settlement comes on the heels of an announcement by the National Park Services that the government has settled with 13 plaintiffs in the negligence lawsuit for $1.49 million.
The federal lawsuit was filed after two Salt Lake City men, David Fleischer, 28, and Kim Ellis, 37, drowned while leading another adult and five teen-age boys through a water-filled slot canyon on the northern boundary of Zion National Park. The victims' families and five survivors charged that the water district and National Park Service did not warn the hikers about large water releases from the upstream Kolob Reservoir.
Government attorneys conceded the water district and National Park Service had made mistakes. But Robert G. Wright, representing Washington County Water Conservancy District, said the district had notified rangers about water releases and several park rangers knew from other sources about water conditions in Kolob Creek before the July 1983 drownings.
"The district's settlement with the plaintiffs does not include any admission of liability on behalf of the district," said water manager Ronald W. Thompson.
District officials have said the settlement will be funded from the district's insurer, CNA Insurance Companies. Two years ago, Thompson said an adverse judgment would result in higher insurance premiums that could be passed along to customers.
Thompson said the Kolob tragedy should prompt the district and other public agencies to evaluate whether facilities should remain open to the public.
The water district "will have to re-evaluate its properties where recreational use is involved," said Thompson. "If public facilities are to be made available to the public, individuals who use these lands and facilities must take responsibility for themselves and their own safety."
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