Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Similkameen river flows lazily in the summertime.  There are a number of delightful swimming holes and on bright sunny summer days the river abounds with inner tubes and travelers of all ages.

borrowed from the Internet until I can find the picture of Vince and buddies, tubing 

In the spring it is a terror, - it runs fast and dangerously, flinging itself downstream over large rocks and treed islands that have built up over the years from the silt the water carries with it on its journey from the source, in Manning Park, its confluence with the Paysatan and in particular with the Tulameen River that joins it at Princeton.   Eventually the Similkameen crosses the border at Nighthawk, and  joins the Columbia Basin in Washington State.  Through the years the river has claimed the lives of adventurous children and young men, some of them about the business of rescuing stranded horses and cattle in flood time.

Upon the banks of the Similkameen the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA)  undertook to provide water to the Fairview Heights Irrigation District on the Cawston Benches.

The PFRA was established by an Act of Parliament in 1935 in response to the widespread drought, farm abandonment and land degradation of the 1930s.  Its mandate was to rehabilitate land affected by soil drifting and to develop and promote systems of farm practice, tree culture, water supply and land utilization that would rehabilitate eroded fields and ultimately the economic security of farmers in the Prairie region.

In 1937 the PFRA Act was amended to include land utilization and land settlement, and it was under this mandate that in 1944  it began to carry out irrigation development, land reclamation and provide engineering services.  Most of this work was undertaken for the Soldier Settlement and Veterans' Land Act Branch of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and the seven projects that were established for DVA benefited approximately 500 veterans, - in particular the Cawston Benches, Westbank, Penticton West Bench, and the Bankhead projects.

Charles began to work with the PFRA engineers towards the end of 1950 as Water Bailiff in charge of the operation of the pumps..  A pumphouse had been built  on the river bank just west of the village of Cawston, to house two 400 HP pumps for irrigation purposes and one 100 HP pump for domestic water.

The river bank, upstream from the pump house, had been rip-rapped by PFRA to protect the pumphouse.  At that time the only other bank reinforcement was at the point where the railroad bed ran close to the river.  Over time the river meanders from one side of the valley to the other, taking with it great chunks of land from the various oxbows found along its length and this tendency is intensified by the rip-rapping of the oxbows which has since taken place, encouraging the diversion of the water where it hits the reinforced bank.  The river no longer runs alongside the location where the pumphouse was built, finding its bed some 100s of feet away towards the western edge of the valley.  Since the mid seventies the benchland has been serviced by deep well pumps, so this is not the catastrophe one might expect.

The system in 1951 consisted of a 24" wood stave wire wrapped pipe line, stretching from the river, through the pumphouse and by gravity across the flat valley bottom up to the lip of the benchlands, 20 or 30 feet above the river level,  and from there the pipe was reduced in size and water was delivered to each alloted acreage.

A problem arose when it was found that silt, (caused mainly by the action of the water on rocks and earth in floodtime) was being picked up directly from the riverbed and passed through the pumps, causing the orchardists' sprinkler systems to wear and erode. And so a sump was dug, close to the pumphouse, where the water could be filtered before entering into the system.

Things finally began to work well, although for a Water Bailiff nothing is ever perfect, - there are always complaints about the quality and quantity of the water being delivered to each individual farm. There are always situations to deal with where someone is either not getting enough water, or is taking too much water.  And there is general panic when there is trouble with the system and orchardists are in the midst of planting trees, with no water available!

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