Eagle Point Irrigation District officials awoke October 2 to some news they never want to hear: the main canal had a blow-out near where the canal crosses Cobleigh Road in Butte Falls. The call came at 5:30 a. m.
Someone passing by the site called in and EPID crews responded quickly to prevent additional damage.
The main canal is equipped with three monitoring stations that read water flow. A rapid drop at any of the stations notifies personnel that something is wrong so that crews can go to the site to correct the problem. In this case, water was flowing normally downstream of the break and would have for some time, until the canal simply ran dry.
As mentioned, the break occurred about ¼ mile from Cobleigh Road in an area where the canal traverses a very steep hillside. A landslide caused canal water to breach the side and approximately 100 feet of the canal and the hillside washed down to Cobleigh Road, perhaps 100 yards down the hill from the canal. Gravel and debris and about 100CFS of water streamed down the roadside ditch and back into Big Butte Creek near the one-lane bridge.
County road crews were on the scene in a short time, removing gravel from the pavement and cleaning the ditches along approximately one mile of road. Water followed the roadside ditch, but in some places it appeared to have crossed the road.
When news of the break reached EPID crews, they quickly closed the headgates at Butte Falls, diverting irrigation water back into the creek. The clay of the hillside muddied the creek, causing concern for the spawning Spring Chinook. The mud washed down the creek to the river, causing distress by folks that live near the river. By the following day, the creek and river seemed as clean as before the slide.
Several reports about the damage to salmon eggs were issued, but later officials said that there may have been little harm to eggs deposited in gravels of the creek and Rogue River.
EPID manager David Ford said there is no way of determining the cause of the slide. The hillside contains springs above the canal and the terrain is very steep. He said that while the cause is unknown, the remedy remains the same: the canal must be fixed and that’s where the District must focus.
The irrigation district exercises caution by having someone patrol the entire ditch every day. Should anything be found to be wrong, Ford said they either fix the problem, or notify crews who come to make repairs.
The blow-out came at the tail end of the irrigation season, at just the time the rains came, fortunate for district patrons. Repairs are expected to take a month, though no official estimates of the time of completion have been issued.
By Ralph McKechnie
For the Independent