Crew wrestles with Middle Fork water line repairs


News staff writers

December 20, 2006

Sleet pellets cascaded down one afternoon last week as workers for Middle Fork Irrigation District continued repairs on water lines damaged in the Nov. 7 flood.

Boy Merz clambered atop a section of culvert as high and as long in size as the semi-truck bed it sat upon. He rigged up a hook to chains encircling the pipe and signaled to the equipment operator. Once Merz was clear, Mike McCafferty plucked the culvert with his excavator and hoisted it off.

“It’s probably one of the biggest culverts we have put in,” said Dave Compton, manager for Middle Fork Irrigation District.

They have been working on repairing line for spring irrigation but also to meet a more pressing need of fire hydrants being off-line. Compton said there are about 20 rural fire hydrants in the Parkdale area that are dependent on power from one of their hydropower projects.

That line, along with their other two facilities, shut down when debris sluiced off the Eliot and Coe glaciers on Mount Hood. The debris flow gathered up boulders, rock, and trees along its path down Eliot Canyon.

The event caused between $900,000 and $1.4 million in damages for the district, which has also been losing $4,300 of daily revenue from its operations being shut down. Among the damage was a wipeout of 500-600 feet of 36-inch steel pipe in two separate sections. The pressure coming through the line that day crumpled the pipe as though it were a plastic straw.

“We replaced it with a high-density pipe that was more flexible,” he said.

Before crews could even reach the damaged lines, they had to spend two weeks clearing debris off the road. In some washed-out sections they made some temporary arrangements going around sections or driving atop river rock.

Further up the line toward Laurance Lake, equipment chirped in the background as Compton explained how the new high-density polyethylene pipe made repairs easier than steel. The material is lighter and can be maneuvered more easily into place than steel, which would have required an absolutely level surface before it could be welded in place. That would be hard to do in the body-deep mud crews are working in.

A section of the line where a bolted flange holds old pipe and new pipe together remained exposed down in a ditch. Compton explained that was so crews can see any possible leaks from pressure testing the pipe. He was pleased the crews have made such progress and credited their good working relationship with the Forest Service as part of it.

“They have allowed us to get done what we need to for repairs to happen,” he said.

While they are concerned about fixing line as well as delivering water to Parkdale orchardists, those dates are some time off.

“For us because we’re higher up in the watershed, we don’t generally start until mid-June but we have to be ready to provide (water),” he said.

Compton said if the weather turns drier, farmers start irrigating earlier. But they also hold water rights that the district must meet for its 420 users if requested to do so starting April 15.

“There is frost water, that’s usually earlier, and then they hold spray rights which are a year-round irrigation right,” Compton said.

He estimated their hydropower facility supplying the fire pumps would be back online Wednesday.

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