By Jayson Jacoby
Water from the Smith Ditch, an irrigation canal that runs along Spring Garden Hill at the southeast corner of Baker City, spilled over Monday but damage was minimal and limited to one property.
"The ditch people cleaned it up and everything is fine," said Al Free, who lives on Place Street at the base of the hill below the ditch.
The situation is far different from Aug. 16, 2003, when a section of the ditch gave way, causing an estimated 10 million gallons of water to spill out and spread a muddy slurry of rocks and debris into the residential neighborhood below.
Monday's overflow happened because water flowed through a hole in the rubber liner, which was installed after the 2003 flood. This caused a bulge in the liner that blocked the water flow.
A resident reported the overflow to the city, which inturn notified Jeff Colton, manager of the Baker Valley Irrigation District.
Colton rushed to two places where water can be diverted out of the ditch into the Powder River in emergencies.
One of those diversions, near Beaver Creek Loop Road just south of Baker City, was installed after the 2003 flood.
Meanwhile, city workers used a backhoe to fortify the wall of the ditch, ending the overflow, said Tom Rudolph, one of the landowners who uses water from the ditch to irrigate land east of Interstate 84.
That relieved the pressure on the bulge in the liner, Rudolph said.
He estimated that water overflowed for no more than 30 minutes Monday morning.
After the ditch was drained, ditch officials inspected the liner and found the hole.
Rudolph suspects a rock, possibly rolled down the hill by kids playing above, caused the hole.
He said ditch officials have found rocks in the ditch in other places.
Rudolph said only the one hole was found.
Workers patched the hole, and water was diverted back into the ditch from the Powder River about 5 a.m. today, Colton said.
"We'll be testing to make sure that what we've done (with the liner patch) is going to solve the problem," Rudolph said.
He and the other landowners had to do without irrigation water for the past two days.
The Smith Ditch irrigates 2,600 to 2,800 acres of alfalfa, potatoes and pasture.
Although farmers have been irrigating for the past few weeks, in deference to the abnormally dry start to 2013, Rudolph said crops are just beginning to sprout, so the temporary loss of irrigation water shouldn't have a major effect.
"I would guess this won't be a real drastic loss for anybody, but it will be a setback to the growth," he said.