By RACHAL PINKERTON
*Editor's Note: This first-person story is the second in a three-part series that details reporter Rachal Pinkerton’s mid-June job shadowing of Nate Volkov, a relief rider for the Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District, in mid-June. Looks for part three of the series in next month’s edition of the Basin Business Journal. In part one of the series Pinkerton detailed Volkov’s morning from 7:30 to 8:18 a.m. In part two Pinkerton details Volkov’s work from 8:23 to 9:39 a.m.*
We continued on. Nate told me that this ditch gets a lot of weeds because it is the top ditch. “This one is the worst,” Nate said. “This ditch catches it. The others are sheltered.” Weeds aren’t the only thing seen on the top ditch. “The nice thing I like about this ditch, because it is the top ditch, there is a lot of wildlife,” said Nate. “There are pheasants, ducks, deer - it’s nice to see.”
We stopped at the weed rack on the east side of Adams Road. There were weeds that needed cleared out. Nate raked the weeds that could hinder the flow of water down the ditch and stacked them on top of the existing pile of weeds. During the spring, weeds are burned as needed. The summer is a bit different. “The bad thing about summer is the burn ban,” Nate said. “We have a burn permit, but we have to call the fire department and have one of the water trucks here. We wait until the pile is big enough to burn.”
We crossed Adams Road and stopped on the other side. Nate verifies the wasteway is operating correctly. I had always wondered about these wasteways. While most bureau ditches run east and west in a snake-like pattern, these ditches run north to south. They also have very little water in them and are filled by the east-west ditches. Nate told me that the wasteways are a way to help regulate the amount of water in the ditch. That day, the top ditch was running 130 cubic feet of water. Excess water can be turned down the wasteways and prevent a ditch from breaking. Most wasteways empty back into the West Canal and are used by others further down the line.
The phone rang. One of the orchardists near Road U was having flooding issues. He needed help immediately. Since we are sitting next to a county road, Nate opted to take it over instead of driving on the bumpy ditch bank. Managing water is tricky. If a pump is turned off or a gate gets plugged, it can back-flood the ditch. “We don’t have room for the extra water,” said Nate. “The bigger ditches can handle it a bit better. Gravity ditches can’t handle it.” Ditch riders have to plan and think ahead with regard to the exact amount of water they need each day. The weather affects the amount of water that farmers need. They also have to take evaporation and the possibility of ditch seepage into account. “You have to know how many boards or water to place in the ditch,” Nate said. The orchard with the flooding issues was at the end of a pipeline buried underground. With these pipelines, any changes made further up the line messes with the guy at the end.
We finally reached the flooding orchard. Water was pouring over the edge of the weir box. Nate headed to the other end of the pipeline to adjust some of the water. For the next 45 minutes, Nate continued to measure and adjust the amount of water flowing through the pipeline. He also talked to a few of the farmers, trying to fix the flooding. “When you work with farmers, they work with you,” said Nate. “Sometimes they have issues on their end. Sometimes you have issues on your end. It goes better if you work together.”
We left the flooding box. Before we left, the orchardist said he would flush his pipes. Nate suspected that either his pipes or his neighbor’s pipes were plugged and unable to take the water. He had already reduced the amount of water that one of the other neighbors who was back-flooding (a term for water running from the field back into the ditch or pipeline) had received. While it helped, the pipe was still back-flooding a bit. Nate decided that he would finish the rest of the route and re-check the flooding box before doing the part of the route we had skipped.
We reached the gate for the final pipeline on the ditch. Nate adjusted it so it would have the correct amount of water in it when we got to it.
We reached the Trinidad Wasteway. While most wasteways return the water back to the West Canal, this wasteway sends water into the Columbia River. “It is a true wasteway,” Nate said. “When we treat with chemicals, we have to dry it up. We have permits with the EPA.” The irrigation district treats the ditches periodically for algae. Algae builds up the elevation of the water in the ditch. “We can’t afford to have ditch breaks,” said Nate. Last year, the district had a ditch break in a ditch that was running 30 cubic feet of water. That ditch break took 400 truck loads of dirt to repair the ditch.