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Hamilton councilmember pushes for ditch repairs


By Michael Howell

Hamilton City Councilor Nancy Joy Valk has put in a lot of time and effort over the last few years in trying to maintain a big drainage ditch that runs through Hieronymus Park. Now she wants the City to step up and do the repairs and the maintenance required to keep the ditch flowing properly.

Valk presented a draft resolution that would commit the City to making the necessary ditch repairs to allow irrigation of the park meadow which she claims was the original use of the ditch water. She came to the meeting prepared with a slide show presentation of photos she had taken of the ditch. She also gave the council a short history of her involvement with the ditch.

It began, “while walking my dogs in Hieronymus Park about five years ago,” she told the council. According to Valk, she observed water pouring into the park’s pond from a break in an adjacent ditch. Large cottonwood trees had invaded the ditch and blocked it, causing the water to breach the ditch’s bank. She observed that the field it was intended to irrigate was going without water.

Valk said she brought the situation to the attention of the city administration at the time and the parks department removed a few trees and repaired the ditch bank. Then, during a “subsequent drought,” she said, further maintenance seemed unnecessary. But the remaining cottonwoods kept growing in the ditch, shrubs and tansy overtook the banks, and the waterways that irrigated the field were allowed to become worn down and flattened.

Last year she called a meeting to discuss the maintenance of the ditch, “however, there was no water running in it and little concern for repairing it.” Then last November following some heavy rains, the ditch ran brim full and began eroding the bank at the same spot as before.

As a result, Valk took it upon herself to spend more than 20 hours shoveling mud out of the ditch and piling it on the bank where it had been eroded. She cut down all the cottonwoods that were smaller than 4 inches in diameter, took out some small rose bushes, and raked the dead tansy plants out of the channel.

“In addition, I dug at least 30 feet of the irrigation ditch north of the culvert so the water would be able to travel towards the meadow as intended,” said Valk.

Valk said that a lot of water has continued to flow all summer and the ditch is once again threatening to breach its banks. Cottonwoods have once again been let to grow up and block the flow of the water in the ditch.

“There are more than a dozen cottonwood trees that need to be removed from the big ditch, along with shrubs, rose bushes, and tansy,” said Valk. “The city owns the equipment to make the required repairs, and can rebuild the main ditch and the smaller irrigation channels throughout the field. There needs to be a commitment by the city to continue this maintenance every year hence, as the care of Hieronymus Park is as important as the care of all other facilities throughout the city.”

Valk said she was an advocate for the city’s parks, and wants them all cared for. She said they are an asset to the city and receive constant use.

“I am asking the Mayor to direct the parks department to remove the trees from the big ditch, and repair it properly. In addition, the city must restore the historic irrigation system in the large meadow. These photos are intended to encourage the administration and City Council to take a proactive stance and take care of the ditch system in Hieronymus Park,” said Valk.

Council President Lynette Helgeland wondered where the water was coming from.

“This is a new thing and needs to be investigated,” she said.

The Mayor speculated that it might be overflow from other ditches in the area.

Helgeland said, “Those things belong to someone else and there are water right issues.”

The Mayor noted that the ditch was involved in delivering water to the pond with an installed valve.

Valk said that regardless of where the water is coming from, something needed to be done.

Helgeland said that she was not questioning the intent. She said it was just a matter of determining where the water is coming from.

“Can we depend on it continuing?” she asked.

Mayor Jerry Steele said that it could even be runoff from the highway. He said that the Parks Department should probably look at it.

Helgeland said, “Thanks to Valk for working so hard on causes that mean so much to her. The Hieronymus Park issue is something that wants all our attention.”

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