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GEM COUNTY -- Rock slides over the weekend have eight miles of Highway 52 blocked off between Emmett and Horseshoe bend.

Now in addition to safety concerns and an inconvenience to drivers, the concerns could be even more far reaching as the cause could be a canal problem. Farmers who use it say this could be extremely serious.

The rock slides started on Saturday and still continue. Idaho Transportation Department workers removed 15 dump trucks full of sandstone and other debris from the road over the weekend but about twice that amount fell on Sunday.

This also happened last year, but this year appears to have worse slides and is causing safety concerns for road officials.

Obviously we're losing more material than we would like to see being lost on the hillside, Alan Jones, ITD's Highway 52 foreman said. Last year, we had four foot sized rocks. Last night we had two foot sized rocks out in the middle of the road.

Engineers spent Monday looking at the hillside to decide whether to move the most recently collapsed rock from alongside the road.

We're planning for the worst but hoping for the best, Jones said.

Beyond those concerns directly related to the slide, experts believe the slides may be caused by a leak in a canal that sits just 20 feet from the edge of the hillside.

We don't know near enough answers yet. We know the slope has moisture in it. We don't know if that's coming from the canal for sure yet. They're still in the process of determining that, Jones said.

If there is a leak, the Idaho Department of Water Resources says it would be a serious situation.

The canal serves 23,000 acres of farmland all the way to Payette, and now is the peak time for needing water.

It's a very difficult situation for all parties involved, Jones said.

Engineers believe if there is a leak, fixing it would be tough, but leaving it could cause a break, badly damaging the highway and further impacting farmers.

The Idaho Farm Bureau tells KTVB hundreds of thousands of dollars of agriculture could be impacted if something serious has happened to that very important canal.

At last check, ITD had decided to move the rocks that have fallen in the last day, but the highway remains closed between Plaza Road near Emmett and Shelly Avenue about 8 miles west of Horseshoe Bend.

Traffic is being re-routed onto Shell Rock Road between Montour and Plaza roads in Gem County. The entire highway is closed to commercial traffic between Horseshoe Bend and Emmett, ITD said.

The department advises motorists who normally would use Idaho 52 to call 511 or check the 511 Traveler Services website for the latest information.

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