Farmers Irrigation District repairs progressing

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

December 30, 2006

The embankment lent a dark cast to the icy temperatures down by the Hood River Thursday morning.

Project Manager Dan Kleinsmith wants the weather to stay that way. The colder the better for the contract crews from Hanel Development of Odell, the firm repairing damages to the canal diversion.

“I’m worried about if we get another week of rain and warm temperatures and the river level goes up three feet,” he said.

Kleinsmith works for the Farmers Irrigation District, which services northwestern Hood River Valley. On Nov. 7, he watched from the bluff above next to the district’s cabin as flood waters raged. His vantage point was a former ditchwalker’s house that sits upon a solid hunk of rock, at River Mile 11 where the river parallels the Dee Highway. He said a 15-to 20-foot high wall of water and debris washed down the river and rounded the bend.

“I saw 50-foot trees simply snap off, fall in, and get swallowed up by the water as if they were toothpicks,” he said.

The water dumped boulders, debris and silt, filling a 600-foot section of canal. When the crest hit the hill, the embankment above slid and the district’s access road to its site was gone. Automatic turbidity sensors in the district’s blue gate shut the door, which Kleinsmith said probably saved the tunnels through the rock from further damage.

“Water still poured in over the top, and muck; but it kept boulders and trees out,” he said.

But on the other side of the rock, the flood tore out another section of up to 75 feet of flume wall. Kleinsmith was explaining the repairs on a tour for District Coordinator Jerry Bryan and board member and orchardist Tim Annala. He is one of the 1,400 users of district’s water. Repairing the diversion to restore service to 3,200 of the 5,800 acres they service is one of the district’s primary goals.

“We’re repairing the system to repair the powerhouse to provide electricity but also irrigation,” Bryan said.

He said most of their demand for irrigation water begins in June but they have to be prepared to deliver frost water earlier.

“That could be an issue in some areas but shouldn’t if we meet our timeline,” he said. “Plus we have alternative ways of delivering the frost water if we have to go that route.”

The workers ended up building two roads. The one that came first dealt with relocating a power pole blocking access. Pacific Corp needed access to move it so Hanel built a 200-foot road. Then they went to work on the access road to Farmers’ head gates, which involved changing the grade and building a 600-foot or so replacement road.

“We’re trying to lower the road down so it’s not exposed to the river as much,” Kleinsmith said.

Their aim is to put on what he called a “band-aid fix” that will carry them through this summer but also work on a more permanent solution for the future. They hope to have hydropower restored by the end of January, which will also bring in revenue.

Farmers Irrigation District has spent $500,000 so far in repairs and if some of its plans work out, it will spend up to $2 million to ensure the damage isn’t as bad if such an event occurs again.

“In the future when we have problems it would get buried but not destroyed,” Kleinsmith said.

Dump trucks ferried loads of rock down to a backhoe putting enough fill in place to keep the Hood River out of their work area. Their next step will be to excavate boulders from the canal and check its floor for damages. Bryan and Kleinsmith said the ultimate plan would be to put in 2- to 3-foot thick concrete walls and floor with rebar.

“We have to do it; have to find the money somewhere,” Kleinsmith said. “The temp work will do fine for the summer but it won’t last through another winter.”

Farmers has paid for the work in-house and through some refinancing. It has also qualified for some FEMA aid and is working with itsbroker to collect on insurance through the Special Districts of Oregon.

“We’re certain the SDAO will go out of their way to support us,” said broker Mark Malland via phone Thursday afternoon.

His response is part of the help that Bryan said the district has gotten from several sources. Those include departments for state lands, emergency management, fish and wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers, and FEMA as well as Sen. Rick Metsger and Rep. Patti Smith.

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