Neighbors pitch in, officials investigate after Murray canal breach
Friends and strangers help flood victims as canal company officials investigate possible causes.
Published: April 29, 2013 12:12PM
Updated: April 29, 2013 12:28PM
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Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Flood waters from the breached North Jordan Canal engulf Lazy River Drive, Saturday, April 27, 2013 in Murray.

A day after a canal breach sent a deluge of water into eight Murray homes, neighbors are cleaning up while officials struggle to figure out what happened.

An irrigation canal owned by the North Jordan Canal Irrigation Company breached its earthen banks about 4 p.m. Saturday, flooding at least eight homes. The canal was built in 1894, served more than 3,000 people and contained water moving at a rate of 70 cubic feet per second.

The breach flooded the basement of Scott Goodman’s home — located at 1203 W. Saddle Bluff Drive (6756 South) — and Sunday he described sifting through the wreckage.

“There’s a small pile of stuff that’s salvageable,” he said. “But it’s very small.”

Goodman and his wife were able to save plastic toys belonging to the couple’s two young children. The bulk of their belongings — including pieces of a home entertainment system, exercise equipment such as a treadmill and “anything made out of paper or fabric” — are destined for the trash. Goodman said the home’s central air, water heater and alarm system also were in the basement.

Worse still, he said, photos and important documents that can’t be replaced were destroyed.

“I don’t think it could get any worse,” he said. “I think we’re pretty much at the bottom right now. It’s just hard to throw your kids’ stuff in the trash can.”

Goodman also mentioned negative experiences with irrigation company personnel. Though he described a “professional” conversation he had with the company president Sunday morning, he said other employees have behaved antagonistically. Goodman also said no one from the company was on scene Sunday to monitor the damage.

“Apparently, safety isn’t on their mind right now,” he added.

But Boyd Simper, secretary and treasurer of the North Jordan Canal Irrigation Company, said his company hired an engineer Sunday morning to investigate the breach. The engineer will test the soil and do “fact finding” to identify why the banks failed.

Though Simper said the engineer would make the ultimate determination, he speculated that a possible cause for the failure could be landscaping on and near the banks. According to Simper, trees and bushes can weaken the soil and homes should not have been built so close to the canal.

“The city should have never let them put [houses] there,” he said.

Goodman had heard landscaping was cited as a possible cause of the breach and criticized the company for not taking responsibility for the disaster.

“It’s terrible that we’re just being left to handle this on our own,” he said.

Simper, though, said his company has contacted its insurance agency, which will coordinate directly with the families.

He speculated that other possible causes for the breach could be muskrats and beavers entering the canal and damaging the banks.

But whatever the cause, Simper said nothing unusual showed up in ongoing recent inspections of the canal. He also said company personnel feel bad about the damage to area homes.

“I have been involved with it for 30 years, and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it, as far as a breach,” Simper added.

The incident will hurt people farther downstream as well. Company and county officials have placed a temporary dam on the canal, but Simper said hundreds of people now have no water for farming, livestock and other purposes. North Jordan Canal Irrigation Company cannot run water back through the canal until the safety of nearby homeowners can be guaranteed, Simper added, meaning those dependant on the water now face dying crops and other problems.

In the meantime, the neighborhood continues to clean up. John Brown, another homeowner who ended up with a flooded basement, said Sunday that he initially had 3 to 4 feet of water in his home. By Sunday, the water had receded to only a few inches. Brown said numerous neighbors had shown up to help. He also said Home Depot donated materials for the recovery.

Goodman said that by Sunday afternoon, most of the water in his basement was gone and crews were working to remove mud.

Goodman estimated there were about 75 volunteers near his home, most of whom were strangers to him. The volunteers showed up with equipment, barbecues, pizza, tents and other supplies. Goodman called the people who showed up “amazing” and “phenomenal,” though he added that losing so much is still difficult.

“My wife and I are up and down,” he said. “One minute we’re doing fine the next minute we’re not.”

jdalrymple@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jimmycdii