Flumes

Don Chandler 1989

Don Chandler on Flume 1989

The sale of land in New Plymouth was by two dimensional platting by a surveyor miles away from the site.  Legal descriptions of land were often cut by natural barriers, hills, canals, ditches, and drain ditches which disregarded a two dimensional map entirely.

The people who had land that the Canals cut thru, orphaning land, were in two camps.  Those that HAD water from other sources, and those that had no such water.  Such cut off land was “orphaned” until a means could be had to supply water from a new canal – much later – known as the Black Canyon Canal, and/or via flumes over the canals.

Farmers could cross such barriers as a canal, drain ditch, stream or gully via flumes.  The particular flume in the photo (taken 1984 with Don Chandler) was a more modern innovation from the usual lumber flume, way ahead of its time.  The usual consisted of 2 x 12 planks nailed together to make a trough thru which water was run.  In this photo, my dad, Paul Chandler, had acquired two 16″ x 16′ steel pipes in 1944.  We put one end of one against the canal bank to prevent its moving, then pushed the second pipe into the first about 6″ using our Cat – like you might do with two soda straws.  It was a most clever adaptation.  Then the pipes were placed across the canal and held in place by concrete on each side of the canal bank.

BTW: you will notice the bend in the middle. This pipe had no structural support. The difficulty originally of lining it up perfectly meant it had to be left that way – temporarily.  We used it like this from 1944 to 1995 with no problem.  Indeed, the bend made it easier to walk it.  You will notice the second photo taken 1995, the bend has been straightened and reinforced. I can only guess that the subsequent owner did not have our faith in the pipe.  It could easily support over 1,000 lbs of me, water, and itself! We often crossed it two at a time.

Flumes did double duty transporting our irrigation water over the canal, but equally important, being a pathway  for foot traffic across the canal barrier.  I crossed this canal on average 6-8 times a day during my irrigation and other chores.  Eventually my dad, did another identical flume upstream, just around the bend, when we rented the Swartzwood place, in order to get its water over this canal.  Prior to these steel pipes, we had the traditional plank flumes which have limited lifespans as they rot, decay, sag until the water runs as much over the edge, wasting it, as goes across.  Plank flumes also can be treacherous to use for foot traffic as they get covered with slimy moss and too slippery for safety. Wooden flumes, as they decay and sag, often are reinforced both underneath and above with braces (like bridges).  As you go up and down the canals you will see every concoction imaginable, following the farmers innovative and unique proclivities.

Often the water engineers, when planning the canals, had purposely planned using such flumes to irrigate land cut off by the Nobel Ditch.  These, like our own land, were usually the tail end of the lateral that we were on.

The photos show the canal with water (looking west (down) the canal), and the same spot without water – looking up the canal.  Note that the water is some 4′ below the flume – meaning the land it was going to was at least that much higher than the water level in the canal.  So no way could gravity flow from the Noble Ditch irrigate this field without being lifted at least 6′.   This same situation is repeatedly seen along the canals, making flumes common, but a planned feature of the canals from the beginning.

The Noble Ditch was designed and placed geographically where it was for several reasons: a) it had to supply land all the way to the Fruitland Peninsula; b) it had to have enough land on its north side to enable the available water to irrigate it all.  If the canal had been placed further north to allow all its water to be used via gravity, then not enough land would be available it being too close to the edge of the bench.

All this meant that Farmers north of the Noble Ditch simply had to use other means, like pumps or waterwheels, to be able to used Noble Ditch water.

Flume Over Dry Canal 2004

Flume Over Dry Canal 2004

The drain ditches of the Plymouth Bench were always cut deep enough that they went under both the Farmers and Noble Ditches.  Drain ditches also served the necessity of storm drains – like all the road bar pits as well as field run-off. One of the beauties of this system, however, was that many fields’ and bar pit run-off could be dumped into a lower canal, and not be put into a drain ditch.  This made the Noble Ditch considerably muddier than the higher canals.  However it conserved considerable water allowing it to be used a second time.  Also, all irrigation water flowed continually.  However it was never needed 100%.  So much of the time it would be “wasted” or diverted directly into the lower canal before using it.  You will notice on many flumes and water wheels, a stream of water flowing out of its side and directly into the canal – wasted water.

These two photos also demonstrate clearly the grass and tullies growing along the canal growing bigger and bigger as the weeds collected still more mud and grew bigger.  These bulging masses of mud eventually grew too big and heavy for the roots to hold, and would sluff off into the canal.  In fact, you can see one such slide right by the right end of the second photo where a large slide extends almost to the center of the channel.  These mud accumulations all must be cleaned out before the canal company can let the water back into the canal.  They will all be dumped up onto the roadway along the righthand side of the canal – and for the umpteenth time, the farmers owning that side must scatter them out over their land in order to again use the canal bank for an access road.

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