RUPERT — Local water managers have placed a $2 million price tag on repairs to flood-damaged irrigation systems — the lifeblood of the Magic Valley.
A group of canal company and irrigation district managers met last week with Idaho legislators to describe damage caused by February’s floods. Most canal systems have eroded or washed-out banks and damaged roads; others have water-logged electric pumps that need to be repaired or replaced.
Worst hit are A&B and Minidoka irrigation districts, with damages estimated at more than a half-million dollars each, said Twin Falls Canal Co. Manager Brian Olmstead, who made the presentation to the legislators.
Officials are still assessing long-term damage, Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said Thursday.
A ticking time bomb
Alan Hansten, manager of North Side Canal Co. in Jerome, said the valley isn’t out of danger yet.
“We’re keeping an eye on things,” Hansten said. “The Big Wood Canal is still a big concern.”
Olmstead agreed. Many areas in Minidoka County are still covered in snow — a potential time bomb if the weather suddenly turns warm.
“There’s a lot of Minidoka County you can’t even get to yet,” Olmstead said.
On top of the physical damage caused by the floods, growers may see lower yields at harvest if spring planting is delayed by wet field conditions.
“Most of what I plant will be late, so my yields will be down,” said Patrick, who grows sugar beets, alfalfa and malt barley. “My big question is, ‘Are (the canals) going to be ready for water when we need it?’”
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, says a lot can be learned from the flooding.
“I think this whole thing speaks to another issue,” he said. In times like this, “we need to be ready to get the water into the ground.”
Legislators were surprised by Olmstead’s presentation, Bedke said.
“I think everyone was struck by the scope of the problem,” he said. “We saw pictures and videos that can’t be seen from the road.”
North Side Canal Co. has been clearing ice jams since the last week of January.
“We’ve cleaned the canals three times,” Hansten said, something that under normal winter conditions would be done only once. Crews haven’t started normal maintenance work yet.
Should canal designs be upgraded to withstand such floods? Hansten says no.
With limited resources, engineering decisions are based on economic thresholds, he said.
“We spread those dollars as best we can,” he said. “We design for what we know we can handle. We don’t design for Armageddon.”