Canals unclogged during burn season

A tractor pulls a propane tank and torch along an irrigation ditch near 19 Road between J Road and U.S. Highway 6&50.

Little seems to get residents fired up more than the smoke and smell of an agricultural burn.

But burning off weeds along ditch banks is one way the Grand Valley Drainage District ensures that excess irrigation water heads back to the Colorado River rather than cause flooding problems for farmers and homeowners.

Since the drainage district was created in 1915, the valley’s population has nearly quadrupled, and housing has become more dense in agricultural areas. Inevitably, this means more people each year call to complain about the controlled fires that workers set in the wide main ditch that runs north of the Colorado River from Palisade to Loma.

“Farmers   historically did   a   lot   of burning, but home- owners now don’t understand why it’s necessary,” said Donna Garlitz, a clerk with Grand Valley Drainage District. “One of the ways to keep the ditch clean is to burn the debris. If we let it go long enough, there could be flooding across every road crossing.”

Workers use a propane torch to burn off weeds, and they are accompanied by a district-owned fire truck. Water treated with fire suppressant is used to extinguish flare-ups. Workers do not burn when it is windy or during inclement weather. Workers are generally busy this time of year burning ditches before growers begin watering crops.

Because of the way ditches are designed, workers could never clear all of the 240 miles of ditches without burning, officials said. The ditches are 8 to 10 feet deep and about 30 feet across.

Money for operations of the Grand Valley Drainage District is derived from property tax dollars.

Agricultural burning is permitted in Mesa County through May 31.

“I think that the more people understand what we do and why, they might be less angry and confused,” Garlitz said.


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