Crews from the Billings Bench Water Association drained their ditch in north Billings over the weekend and on Monday began digging it up.
"We're trying to figure out what is going on," said Gary Davis, president of the board of directors for the BBWA.
A handful of homes on Vuecrest Drive, which sits directly below the BBWA ditch as it stretches through north Billings, have begun to shift and slide off their foundations, pushing into the street.
Behind the homes, the land steeply slopes up about 50 feet to the canal above. From the base of the hill, where the homes sit, water has been pouring out of the ground at a troubling volume.
Some of it is coming from an old white PVC pipe buried in the hillside discovered by homeowners Don Kaiser and Doug Eaton. To alleviate the flow, Kaiser connected a length of black irrigation pipe to it, running it to the gutter in front of his house.
Next door, Eaton discovered similar saturation in his backyard, but no pipe. He dug a hole and placed a pump inside to keep the water out, attaching a garden hose to it, which runs the water to the gutter in front of his house.
Together, the two are spilling out about 20,000 gallons of water a day.
And still, the water pouring from the old pipe doesn't account for the damage and how much the land in the area has moved.
Then last week, the homeowners discovered fissures in the hillside above their homes and they worried that the whole slope next to the ditch could collapse. They called the BBWA.
"They made us nervous," Davis said. "We thought maybe the ditch bank was saturated."
In 2016, a section of the BBWA's ditch that runs through the Alkali Creek neighborhood collapsed, sending a torrent of irrigation water down streets and through homes.
So the recent fissures caught their attention. The BBWA turned off the ditch over the weekend and emptied it out, and on Monday it began digging out the canal to see what could be found. As of Monday afternoon, BBWA had no clear answers.
The dirt alongside and under the ditch, down to about 14 feet, was dry. However, the cement walls inside the ditch where the water runs showed a number of cracks.
Back along Vuecrest, Kaiser's home has twisted and buckled and is close to becoming uninhabitable. Earlier this month, Montana-Dakota Utilities shut off his gas because the lines into his house were bowing so much they threatened to break.
He and his wife Lupe spent most of their weekend loading a U-Haul truck, trying to get as many possessions out of their home as possible. If something happens to their home now, he's worried his insurance won't cover it.
"We're still trying to figure out what the hell we're going to do," he said.
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