by Michael Howell
The Big Ditch was shut down last Thursday to repair a substantial leak that had developed in the canal bank northeast of Corvallis and south of Stevensville near Popham Lane. The Big Ditch brings irrigation water from behind the dam at Lake Como and stretches over 75 miles to the Eagle Watch area near Florence, irrigating over 16,665 acres. The main canal has an initial capacity of 350 cubic feet per second.
When a substantial leak develops in a ditch this big, as happened last week, it quickly becomes a substantial concern for the Bitter Root Irrigation District (BRID) employees. BRID Ditch Rider Dennis “Smitty” Smith was investigating a report of water along the roadway and discovered a hole in the ditch bank with cloudy water coming out it. He called in an alert and BRID manager John Crowley immediately called the Dam Tender at Lake Como and had the ditch shut down. But, according to Crowley, it takes 20 to 30 hours for that water to stop.
“So, we let water out into Willow Creek and Skalkaho Creek to take the pressure off the leak and then jumped in there and placed a temporary patch over it to hold it,” said Crowley. “As the water dropped down, we got in and dug it out, brought in some new clay and pit run and got a good seal on it.”
“We always have areas where we sub and we are watching them,” said Crowley. “Smitty did everything right.”
He said the Sheriff was alerted as well because there was a home located below the leak site, but there was no real danger at the time.
Water in the ditch was started up again on Saturday at 6 p.m. but it takes three full days to get water to the end. As of Monday afternoon it was just reaching the Burnt Fork area east of Stevensville.
“People need to be patient,” said Crowley. “It takes a lot of time to build the ditch up. We can’t just throw a huge amount of water in and possibly breech someplace else. We put it all on Facebook and we have had a lot of compliments on the way we handled it.”
Water releases into the ditch from the dam are projected to end on September 16th.