The Roundup -

A Community Comes Together to Accomplish an Amazing Feat in Record Time


The excavation process would move a total of a quarter million yards of dirt for the new section of the canal. Photo provided courtesy of Project Manager James Brower.

On Sunday, Aug. 21, phones started ringing. David Haverkamp placed a call to Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project (LYIP) stating that they had noticed water bubbling out of the ground partway down the 45' – 50' embankment that served as the main irrigation canal's outside wall. A ditch rider was sent out, who first called Project Manager James Brower, and when he didn't answer, called the watermaster, Pat Micheletto. Micheletto then called Brower to tell him that the canal had breached.

The 72-mile-long, 60' wide, and 11' deep lifeline to valley farmers was gushing water at speeds fast enough to create whitewater. In September of 2012, a number of trees and bushes had been cleared from the canal banks four miles south of Sidney, because the tree roots had formed a barrier that was interfering with drainage and destabilizing the canal bank. The canal banks had been terraced to remove tree roots and sheets of drain tile were installed, however no one suspected that any of the trees were so old that they would have roots deep enough to tap into the bottom of the canal. As the deep roots rotted away, a small trickle of water picked up speed, washing out more and more sand, until the ground became so saturated it gave way to the enormous water pressure. Chunks of the bank started to collapse, 100,000 cubic yards of dirt in all.

LYIP employees rushed to open up waste ways, including Crane Creek, Fox Creek, Lone Tree Creek, the Savage Creek waste way, and the Burns Creek waste way and they raised checks as they went.

Parts of Crane Creek flooded, and the Savage waste way washed out the culvert to Elk Island. While the Savage waste way was throttled, the Savage Fire Department assisted in locating boaters who would've otherwise been stranded and had their vehicles stranded.

Coffer dams were installed at County Roads 117 and 119, as well as at the repair site.

The gates at Intake were shut almost immediately, however it takes 24 hours for anything done at Intake to affect Bell Hill, the area where the breach occurred. LYIP had done all they could do to stop the water, but still it ran, fed by underground springs and canal walls that had spent the last couple of months absorbing water into the ground.

Dirt clogged drainage designed to handle small overflow. The water flooded the surrounding farmland, at 2 ½' – 3' deep; it was only contained by higher ground, county road 115 and MT Highway 16.

Sunday night LYIP worked to stop the water, prevent further homes from being flooded, and they cleaned dirt and trees out of culverts. On Monday morning, the four LYIP districts met and surveyed the damage.

Interstate Engineering dropped everything they were doing to survey the canal and have an estimated cost of repair ready that night. They immediately began staking the construction site, and only billed for their own necessary labor costs.

It would be nearly a half a million-dollar fix. District I had half of its water shut down, District II was completely dry, and Savage and Intake were unaffected, however 2/3 of the LYIP were dry due to district sizes.

District II advised the LYIP not to spend the $485,000 to fix the canal immediately because they didn't feel their crops could be saved, and didn't want to see more money spent than was necessary. Then the other three districts stepped in, willing to pay an equal share to get the repairs going. They weren't prepared to see their neighboring communities take the loss of crops and finances without a fight.

Businesses stepped up, too. LYIP turned to Don Franz, owner of Franz Construction, who had experience repairing the LYIP Main Canal. He gave them a guaranteed bid of $485,000, regardless of how long the repair would take and of additional cost that could result if problems presented themselves during the repair. Franz also provided extra equipment each day to manage obstacles that could've caused delay.

Nortana Grain Co. bid fuel for Franz Construction without delivery charges in order to save irrigators as much money as they could. They came in substantially lower than any other bid, and left fuel tankers on-site so that construction wouldn't be held up waiting for deliveries.

The main canal had experienced three prior breaches in the same area, about every 25 -30 years. The consensus was to re-route that section of the canal, with the cooperation of a near-by landowner.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24th, the first day of construction, tragedy occurred. Franz employee Terry Klein was shot while operating his excavator. The construction site was now a crime scene and everything had to come to a halt while law enforcement gathered evidence.

Knowing that time was of the essence, LYIP employees moved scrap metal and debris by hand; they even disassembled a pole barn with little more than manpower to ready the sight for the new section of canal. LYIP employees worked long consecutive days to ensure quick completion.

When construction resumed, Franz Construction employees worked in two shifts, 24 hours a day to finish the job.

"Terry Klein died trying to restore water service back to the farmers in time to save their crops, and I wanted to honor Terry's ultimate sacrifice by doing exactly that," said Franz of his operator.

A quarter million yards of dirt had to be moved for the new section of canal, but the soil was a perfect mix of silt and clay. Ten days after the breach was reported, the irrigation canal was functional again.

"I've worked irrigation for 25 years, in four districts, in three states, and I have never seen a community come together like this. I've never seen so many large private businesses give up their profit margin and sacrifice in order to save crops," said Brower. "The people who should've been screaming to spend the money to get it fixed didn't want us to spend the extra money in case it wasn't done in time to save their crops. The people who had water were the ones that insisted we do everything we could."

The Haverkamps land and home ended up with the most flooding, and LYIP relocated them to a hotel. Even they were concerned with the greater good, and insisted that LYIP get the canal up and running before any insurance claims were filed.

The day of completion, LYIP employees had their first opportunity in more than a week to go home early, but stayed in order to blade a driveway for the Haverkamps. They would later build them a new, gravel driveway.

"I'm proud to be a part of this community and I'm proud of what this community can accomplish in just a few days of working together. I'm especially proud of my employees; not one of them made a single complaint throughout the entire process. Even when they were working long hours day after day and into the night," added Brower.

LYIP would like to thank all of the businesses, landowners, board members, and individuals who worked together with them to make this repair in record time.


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