Levee breaks east of Sanger, several families evacuate (video)

The Fresno BeeJuly 6, 2014 

A section of the Alta Irrigation District main canal levee ruptured east of Sanger on Sunday, causing water to rise on several farms and flow across East Kings Canyon Road/Highway 180.

Five homes were threatened after a 20-foot section of the levee was breached about 6:30 p.m., causing water to spill out near Highway 180 and Frankwood Road. The break occurred about a half-mile north of the highway.

Cal Fire Capt. Ryan Michaels said a control valve near Avocado Lake was closed to stop the flow of water to the canal, which kept the overflow to a minimum.

Javier Cavazos, superintendent of the Alta Irrigation District, said investigators are working to pin down the cause of the breach. He guessed that animals like squirrels or gophers, which settle in empty drainage ditches during dry summer months, might have had something to do with it. Repairs on the levee are scheduled to begin Monday.

Initial reports stated the breach occurred in the Friant-Kern Canal, but Michaels confirmed that only the Alta main canal was damaged.

Michaels said that the water was knee-high at its highest point and a few families fled after the initial breach. Most families stayed put, however.

A 200-foot swath of water flooded across Highway 180, and the westbound lane was shut down Sunday evening due to flooding but was expected to reopen later Sunday.

There was no estimate on the damage to homes. It is not yet clear how much water was lost or what farms were impacted.

The Alta main canal delivers irrigation water from Pine Flat Reservoir for the Alta Irrigation District, which serves east-Valley users in Fresno, Tulare and a small portion of Kings counties. The towns of Dinuba and Reedley are within the district's boundaries. The district encompasses 129,000 acres, 111,000 of which is used for agriculture.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6015 or at rappleton@fresnobee.com.

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