Residents clean up from clogged canal

Laurie Jo Elisha shows how much water was in the garage at her home, which is along A 3/4 Road near Rainbow Drive, after an irrigation canal overflowed Tuesday. On Wednesday, Elisha and other residents took photos so that they could file claims with the insurer of the canal operator.

Laurie Jo Elisha’s boss learned firsthand as they talked on the phone why Elisha would be missing work.

“She said, ‘My gosh, I’m driving through water,’ ” Elisha recounted of their conversation as her boss was driving nearby along U.S. Highway 50 on Tuesday.

The water had come from Orchard Mesa Canal No. 1, which had topped its banks, sending knee-high water crashing down a hill, through the detached garage and into the crawl space of Elisha’s home at 2865 A 3/4 Road.

By Wednesday morning, the median dividing the highway near her home was still waterlogged, said Elisha, a teacher at Mesa View Elementary school.

As of about 1 p.m. Wednesday, the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District had heard from approximately six property owners, including those in a row of homes along Rainbow Drive, about various levels of damage sustained Tuesday night. The flood was caused by a clogged pipe south of Elisha’s property, said Max Schmidt, the irrigation district manager.

Workers opened the canal Tuesday morning from 33 Road, apparently unaware of various debris obstructing a 30-inch pipe at Rainbow Drive.

Schmidt pledged the entity’s insurer is prepared to pay residents’ damage claims.

“We took the water Monday from 38 Road to 33 Road with no problems,” he said, noting the water cleared 23 culverts and was within a few hundred feet of its destination before the backup.

Schmidt said he doesn’t believe the irrigation district is at fault.

“You can’t put a person in (the pipe) with a flashlight,” he said. “It falls on my shoulders to solve a problem when it occurs.”

Mesa County and city of Grand Junction crews needed approximately five hours to clear the obstruction, which they accomplished around 9 p.m., according to accounts from Elisha and Schmidt.

By that time, water that reached the knees of cows on Elisha’s property had been flowing downhill and north for several hours into the backyard and basement of Connie Mattas’ home at 1757 Rainbow Drive and beyond.

“For a 74-year-old widow, I felt pretty good about keeping this place up,” said Mattas, whose backyard was caked in silt stirred by the flooding.

Like Elisha, she was already in contact with the irrigation district’s insurer and snapping photos of the mess. A sump pump in the basement minimized damage to her basement, Mattas said.

Elisha and family spent Wednesday running fans in the basement and transferring items from the family’s waterlogged garage to a pair of storage units they purchased and had delivered to their driveway. Schmidt, meanwhile, said he will approach the irrigation district’s board of directors about possibly replacing the 30-inch pipe with a concrete flume, which would reduce chances of future flooding.

“This is a hundred-year-old system operating on a shoestring budget,” he said.


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