INDIO, Calif. -

Kevin Hemp, an educational specialist for the Coachella Valley Water District, uses stories like "Tommy and the Canal" to teach thousands of local students every year to think twice before diving into a canal.

"The canal is a big temptation. Unfortunately it's very dangerous," he said.

Hemp said more than 140 people have drowned in the Coachella Canal, built in the late 1930s, a branch of the All-American Canal.

Barbed-wire fences make it clear: keep out. However, some hidden dangers inside the 123-mile canal include steep and slippery cement walls, fast-moving water, unpredictable currents and underwater tunnels called syphons.

"The danger there is people don't know they're there and people could get sucked in," Hemp said.

It's not a place to swim or fish. If you do, it's considered trespassing.

"We encourage people who like to fish, to fish at Lake Cahuilla," he said. "It's safe and you can fish year-round."

When it comes to swimming in the canal, the CVWD's message is simple: Stay away. Stay alive.

"As far as rescue, if somebody sees someone in the canal, you definitely don't want to go in after them. First thing you do is call for help. Call 911," he said.

It's not worth the risk.

If you see someone fishing or swimming in a canal, CVWD encourages you to call police.