Irrigation ditch blows out in midvalley
October 6, 2006
CARBONDALE – Two septic tanks were unearthed, emptying an unknown amount of raw sewage into the Crystal River, after an irrigation ditch blew out above the BRB Campground south of Carbondale on Thursday night.Luckily, no one was injured after the Thomas Ditch apparently undercut the bank and burst through the hillside around 8 p.m. Thursday, sending a large debris flow into the Crystal River, according to Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office patrol director Jeff Lumsden.Mud and debris blocked an interior subdivision road on the east side of the river, leaving two homes inaccessible. An unoccupied mobile home at 0293 Bill Creek Road was dangling on a precipice above a 100-foot-long gully the rushing water cut away, according to one eyewitness.”It’s just hanging there on the cliff,” said resident Jack Searing, who arrived home shortly after the ditch broke and was unable to continue up the road to his house.”I pulled up behind my neighbor’s car, and we couldn’t go any farther,” Searing said. “It took the whole side of the hill down into the access road.”
Carla Ostberg of the Pitkin County Environmental Health Department was on the scene Friday morning to assess the damage and determine the level of danger from the sewage spill.”The debris flow took away the yard next to the trailer, including two septic tanks and a dry well,” Ostberg said. “It was a relatively small amount of sewage … no one had lived there for about six months, but there was some sewage in the tank from when people did occupy it.”I don’t want to minimize what happened, and we are still looking into it,” she said. “But there shouldn’t be any hazard to anyone downstream at this point.”Ostberg said the state health department has been notified about the situation. In addition to the septic tanks, a diesel fuel tank was hanging, still connected by a copper pipeline to the mobile home.”We don’t know if any of the fuel spilled,” she said. “The flow went over the road and well into the river. Whatever spilled is either in the dirt leading to the river, or in the river and swept away.”
Searing said he has about two to three feet of mud in his yard, and likely won’t be able to get into his house for a couple of weeks. He said he has other accommodations in the meantime.Meanwhile, the Crystal River was about half filled with mud and debris where the flow entered just below the BRB Campground. “It smelled pretty bad last night. The Crystal River is loaded with crap [from the septic tanks],” Searing said.Lumsden said a sheriff’s deputy and personnel from the Carbondale Fire District responded and backtracked along the flow area to where the ditch blew out.”They found the head gate and turned it off to stop the flow,” he said.
“It was pretty scary, you don’t expect a ditch to blow out like that,” Lumsden said. “It didn’t appear to be caused by increased flow from rainfall, instead it came from underneath. There was never an indication that it had flowed over the bank, so it must have been a liner that gave way.”In addition to the septic and diesel tanks, another concern was a propane tank that pulled away from outside the mobile home.”The fire department was trying to locate the propane tank, but they couldn’t find it,” Searing said. “It was probably buried and sealed.”The ditch is owned by the Thomas Ditch Association, and any damages will be a civil matter, Lumsden said.”It will all fall to insurance, I’m sure,” he said.