Agricultural damage from the Quail Creek dike burst is worse than the farmers at first realized, says the state agricultural inspector.
Not only was the Washington Fields Diversion Dam across the Virgin River destroyed, leaving 100 farm families without irrigation water, but livestock was drowned and fields rendered worthless for crops for at least a year.Rodney N. Campbell, the agricultural inspector, said in a telephone interview Thursday from St. George that one farmer lost about 70 cattle, and 115 pigs belonging to another were drowned.
Earlier, more cattle were thought killed, but some have been showing up alive. Apparently they were able to scramble to higher ground when the wall of water roared from the reservoir breach or were in better positions to begin with.
Livestock losses would have been far heavier, except that one rancher moved his cattle out of the way on Dec. 31, the day before the dike burst. "His father-in-law was up by the dam and he said, `Hey, this dam's going to go,' " Campbell said.
A longer-range disaster is that many hundreds of acres of farm land were either scoured by the raging river or covered with thick mud. This includes 400 to 500 acres near the dike, plus chunks of land all along the river in the flood plain.
Most of the farm land was used to grow alfalfa and this year's production is lost.
"I think it's going to be more expensive than what the farmers originally thought" to reclaim this land, he said. Two or three days of calculations will be required before a final figure is available.
But in general terms, the agricultural land could cost $2,000 per acre to reclaim. "They're going to have to go in and relevel it, reset their irrigation systems, replant their crops," Campbell said.
A small irrigation canal was destroyed, but others are intact.
The major structural damage for farmers, beside the dike itself, is the loss of the Washington Fields Diversion Dam, a 600-foot structure built across the Virgin River in 1890-91. Campbell thinks replacing it may cost $750,000 to $1 million.
"We don't have any water until it's rebuilt," said Evan J. Woodbury, St. George, president of the St. George and Washington Canal Co.
In addition to the water drawn directly from the Virgin River by using the diversion structure, farmers also had backup water rights to Quail Creek Reservoir. Both sources are now gone.
About 5,000 acres of farm land was watered by the diversion structure and reservoir.
The St. George Valley Irrigation Co. used some of the water from these sources. In non-farm uses, some went to the city of St. George to water the cemetery and park. Dixie State College used some, and other water rights went to private homes.
This is Dixie's rainy season, and the river water isn't needed - yet.
But what will happen to the farmers if the dam isn't rebuilt before the coming dry months? "We're going to have it rebuilt before the summertime," Woodbury said. "We hope to get it rebuilt by the next couple of months, two and a half at the most. We have to get it rebuilt," Woodbury said.
If it's not rebuilt in time, "the farms would all dry up," he said. "This is too hot a country to raise anything without irrigation water."
Woodbury said he doesn't know where the money to rebuild will come from. "But we're hoping we'll get some disaster help. I guess the company could borrow some, and I guess we'll get a higher assessment."
That would mean farmers pay more for their water.
Woodbury is also on the board of directors of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, the owners of the reservoir. The district would like to build a new reservoir in a better location, he said.
A good site would be north of Virgin, upstream from Zion National Park, he said. "But nowadays, you have so much opposition from environmentalists," and the National Park Service isn't happy about a reservoir being built there, either, he said.