Every night when Lynette Nye goes to sleep in the basement bedroom of her home on Fern Drive, she is afraid she will wake up swimming, as the Davis-Weber Canal, only a few yards from her home, gives way to the forces of nature.
For 13 years, residents of the area have seen those forces at work. Every spring the canal fills up, and within two weeks, water begins carving an underground maze through the fine silt of the area. First sinkholes appear in the street and sidewalks, and asphalt starts sinking a few inches and then underground sewer lines give way, Nye said.In the past few years it is the basements of 13 of the 21 homes that have become a playground for the errant water. One of the homes is particularly at risk because the basement walls are dirt. Higher water levels this summer in the canal and heavy equipment that damaged the canal's cement liner last year have exacerbated the problem, residents said.
"If we get hit by this next year I don't think any of our homes are going to stand it. They will crumble," Nye said, noting the problem is getting worse.
For the first time, Nye found her basement filled with mud and water this summer. Ruth Carper said at the end of June her yard "was like a swamp" and after it was pumped she discovered a hole four feet wide and six feet deep in the rear of her house. Masao Endo said he has fought the water for three years and has spent $4,000 to clean up the mess and install a sump pump.
"We don't even dare take a vacation or go for even two or three days because we don't know what is going to happen," Endo said. "If the canal decides to give way, away we go. The canal is higher than our back yard."
Like Endo's house, most of the houses on the east side of the street between Fifth and Third North are guarded by sump pumps. From May to November the pumps spew water through hoses to the gutter that has become filled with silt and algae.
Canal company manager Floyd Baham said the canal isn't to blame for such volumes of water. He said canal flows compared to usage show little loss of water.
"The canal has operated over a long period and why should all of a sudden we see these type of leaks? I am not saying it doesn't seep a drop of water," Baham said.
State Division of Water Rights Engineer Jim Riley said that the canal is contributing to the problem, but he places blame on seepage from holding ponds blocks away at Hill Air Force Base and lawn watering at an apartment complex across the canal. He said the water filters down 14 feet to a clay hard pan and drains into basements on Fern Drive. Large cracks and fractures, filled with tree roots and weeds that are visible even when the canal is full, belie what the state says, Endo said.
"Isn't it strange that our neighbors across the street do not have any water, just the east side along the canal," Nye said. "The canal people refuse to say it's their water. But I believe the canal people know it is their water."
In a letter sent to the State Division of Water Rights last week, the residents said they believe the agency's conclusions aren't backed by any substantial facts.
"It is a sad state of affairs that only when extensive and expensive damage has taken place can laws be enforced," the letter, signed by 30 people, said.
The division has taken sides with the canal company because it doesn't want to get involved in legal action, Nye said. According to state law, the state engineer has authority to order the canal company to take corrective measures and, if necessary, enforce its order in court.
Riley said the state does plan to monitor and inspect repairs the canal company has pledged to make after the water is turned out of the canal on Oct. 1. Clearfield City is also monitoring ground water with piezometers or slotted pipes planted vertically in several areas in the neighborhood.
"The cement has been there a long time. We will go in and do whatever needs to be repaired and do what is necessary," Baham said.
Residents are worried that what the canal company thinks is "necessary" may not be enough. They want the state to force the canal company to install an underground pipe or a new canal lining in the Fern Drive area. Patching will not be enough, Nye said.
"Hopefully, by partially relining or sealing cracks it will stop the problem," Riley said.
There are other problems as well. Riley said that residents have been pumping away dirt from the canal bank along with the water. That could have already weakened the canal sufficiently for it to fail. For example, the pumping has already caused sinkholes to appear near the canal bank. Authorities say they will require more filters on pumps next year, but aren't sure what damage has already been done.
"We are really concerned about the stability of the canal. Sumps too close to the canal pose a problem," Riley said.
Another concern, Carper said, is property values.
"I am a widow and thought this (house) would be some financial means for my children to turn into an asset if they had to take care of me," Carper said. "Now, what am I sitting on? Frankly I don't think I am sitting on five cents."