Boise-area irrigation districts deal with trash dumped in canals

Mark Zirschky, Pioneer Irrigation District water superintendent, clears trash and debris from a weed rack on a small canal in Canyon County, Idaho.

More yard waste, trash and debris are showing up in southwestern Idaho canals and ditches as the region grows, irrigation managers report.

Population growth can increase the clientele’s ratio of residential subdivisions to agriculture operations as it increases the customer count.

One result is that a declining percentage of customers is familiar with irrigation districts and canal companies, said Mark Zirschky, water superintendent at Caldwell-based Pioneer Irrigation District. And while a new housing development may prompt an improvement such as piping an open waterway — adding efficiency and keeping material from entering — trash often still ends up in a debris guard above.

The amount of residential landscape waste dumped into canals has been growing steadily with the population growth in the region, Treasure Valley Water Users Association Executive Director Roger Batt said in a news release. Waterway-monitoring ditch riders “are checking the system every day just to keep the racks free of trash, and it is consuming more and more of their time.”

Zirschky said that when water was coming into Pioneer’s system this year, “we found a pile of trash that consisted of TVs, mattresses, coffee tables and even a recliner. It would have been a real mess had the ditch rider not made an additional trip and cleared all of this debris ahead of the water being turned in” for delivery.

Pioneer finds tree limbs, lawn clippings and assorted trash on its easements, a problem that appears to be worse since local landfills became more selective about what they allow customers to discard, he said.

Idaho Statute 42-1209 prohibits dumping into a canal or ditch any material that can interfere with delivering irrigation water.

Trash and debris pose “a serious problem for our irrigation delivery entities, and it has only gotten worse with the strong residential and commercial growth we are experiencing,” Batt said.

“It is really frustrating that some folks look at a canal as a waste disposal system, and it’s a shame that the taxpayers of those irrigation delivery entities have to fund trash removal,” he said.

Batt said debris can build up at guards and trash racks to an extent that it damages private property, raises the risk of serious flooding and possibly reduces the amount of water available to downstream users who have paid for it.

One major canal nearly flooded earlier this summer when a truckload of fresh tree trimmings lodged in a check structure in the middle of the night, Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District Water Superintendent Greg Curtis said. The district, the largest in the Treasure Valley, is getting more frequent reports of dumped motor oil, paint and other chemicals that require it to notify the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Batt said chemicals in lawn and garden waste also pose an environmental risk, and can mix with water used on another customer’s plantings.

“Remember, you live upstream from someone else,” he said.

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