OAKLEY -- Now that he's retired, Rich Jarvis finally has time to turn his backyard into an edible garden.
A small orchard of peach, pear and apricot trees would fill the back half; raised planter beds full of vegetables along with a greenhouse for cultivating plants in the winter would take up the rest.
There's just one wrinkle: A large swath of turf in Jarvis' Oakley yard is waterlogged.
Mounds of wet mud lie near the two holes he dug to assess the situation; roughly 2½ feet wide and 2 to 3 feet deep, both are brimming with water and are full again about five hours after he drains them with a pump.
"Right now it's, 'Let's see if the water gets under my foundation,'" said Jarvis, who's starting to worry about mold developing under his house and its foundation weakening as the dampness creeps ever closer to his back porch.
Jarvis noted that the problem also affects two of his neighbors, one of whom told him that the excess water is requiring him to adjust the pH in his swimming pool more often than usual.
The trouble came to light this summer while Jarvis was transferring rocks from his front yard to the back. His wheelbarrow began sinking into the unnaturally soft soil, alerting him to the possibility that the canal on the other side of his fence had started leaking again.
In 1999, the Contra Costa Water District, which operates and maintains the Contra Costa Canal, drained an approximately 500-foot section of the conduit that was leaking and replaced two panels of its concrete liner.
Although it wasn't fast enough to save a handful of Jarvis' cypress trees, the soil dried up after that.
Responding to his recent complaints, the district in August took water samples in an effort to determine the source of the water, but the results were inconclusive, said district spokeswoman Jennifer Allen. CCWD also had a diver look for hairline cracks in the concrete walls and check the caulking between sections of panels.
"We're going to work with (Jarvis) until we find a solution," she said, noting that the district is prepared to hire outside experts if necessary.
In the meantime, district engineers are reviewing the information the diver provided, Allen said.
If the canal proves to be the culprit, the next question will be whether the problem can be fixed in the course of the routine maintenance the district does in December. Because there's less demand for irrigation water in the winter, water levels in the canal are lower and that makes it easier to spot cracked and missing caulking and fix it with underwater epoxy.
If that doesn't do the trick, Jarvis says he's not sure what else he can do.
"All I want is to be able to landscape my property," he said. "I could do so much with it."
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.