Water again running in irrigation canal – August 27, 2019
The loss of irrigation water in Southeastern Wyoming and the Panhandle of Nebraska has been devastating for the farmers who were watching their crops grow mid-July. Seed, fertilizer, equipment and time investments had already been made and July is a critical time in the growing season with high temperatures and low precipitation in the area. The tunnel collapse on the Fort Laramie Canal on July 17, 2019 caused a breach in the canal and a stop to water delivery for the nearly 107,000 acres of farm ground in Wyoming (52,000 acres) and Nebraska (55,000 acres) that rely on the irrigation water. Seeing the magnitude of the situation, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon declared a state of emergency on July 22.The ripple effect of the financial impact to the area farmers will be felt across Wyoming and Nebraska communities. Wyoming and Nebraska could suffer an $89 million economic loss if crops on the 107,000 acres affected are a total loss, according to information from the University of Wyoming and Nebraska Extension services. The economic analysis assumes a total loss of corn, dry edible beans and sugar beets in the region and one-third loss of alfalfa production, said Brian Lee and Roger Coupal, agricultural economists with the University of Wyoming.
The Irrigation District crews and boards went to work immediately to determine a temporary fix to return service to the canal while also working on a permanent fix. To put the scope of the project in perspective the tunnel is 2,160 feet long and 14 foot in diameter. Construction started in 1916 and was finished in 1917. Work on the temporary fix included repairing the canal breach, repairing the tunnel and the sinkhole excavation/stability efforts over the collapsed area.
According to the Goshen Irrigation District, as of Aug. 26, 2019 there is light at the end of the tunnel collapse. The August 26 report explained: “The ribbing and tunnel ceilings have been stabilized to a point of 700 feet within the tunnel. After the collapsed hole was repaired, grouted and secured, the remaining length of the tunnel was debris free and stable for water use. The above ground excavation has also completed, turning the project’s attention to ground reclamation and the long-term future plans for the tunnel repairs.”
The August 26 report states they are hopeful to resume water service in the Fort Laramie Canal by the end of the week. “The water will be turned on slowly to ensure tunnel stability and to test and monitor the tunnel as water is released,” the report said.
Just three days earlier on August 23 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA) had announced that federal crop insurance will cover crop losses resulting from the July 17 tunnel collapse. There had been a lot of uncertainty on whether or not crop insurance would cover the losses depending on the determination of what caused the tunnel to collapse.
The Wyoming and Nebraska Farm Bureaus had urged the USDA to ensure crop insurance would cover the losses. WyFB President Todd Fornstrom and Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson visited the affected area early August to visit with farmers and see the tunnel collapse site.
“Our two organizations were one of the many voices that encouraged USDA to ensure these losses were covered,” said Todd Fornstrom, WyFB President. “We want to thank Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, RMA Administrator Barbre and his team and the Wyoming Congressional Delegation along with the numerous others who provided important insights to aid RMA in arriving at this decision.”
“With so many unknowns still out there regarding the permanent fix for the tunnel, it is helpful that this decision has been issued to help the farmers with some certainty in their management of this difficult situation,” Fornstrom said.
Determining the best approach for a permanent fix as well as how to fund that fix are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. According to the Goshen Irrigation District online reports, GID staff and board members have met with state and federal officials to pursue funding options for the long-term fix and repair.
“We continue to work for a permanent fix to take care of this for the next generation,” said Bob Coxbill, Goshen Irrigation District Board President and Goshen County farmer. “No matter which permanent fix we use it will be another major issue.
The tunnel is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, we have two irrigation districts that share that tunnel with one in Wyoming and one in Nebraska, so we’ve run into a lot of problems to get to that permanent fix.”
“There are a lot of irons in the fire,” Coxbill continued.
One of those includes Wyoming Legislative action. According to State Senator Cheri Steinmetz, the Select Water Committee met jointly with the Wyoming Water Development Commission mid-August and the Select Water Committee will be sponsoring legislation this coming session for emergency funding for both the planning and construction of the permanent fix. “Normally it would take nearly four years from when you start to get to the construction phase,” Senator Steinmetz explained. “The proposed legislation will do the planning and move it into the construction phase all in one year.”
“We will also be looking at emergency funding for issues like this infrastructure collapse,” Steinmetz continued. “There are various thoughts on how to do it but we know that we need to have emergency funding available. We are committed to passing legislation during the upcoming session and we are hoping the rest of the Legislature will see the need for an emergency account.”
Steinmetz continued that a bigger conversation is needed about the responsibility of the Bureau of Reclamation in all of this. “According to the Congressional Research Service, fifty percent of the money the Bureau of Reclamation receives from natural resources is from the state of Wyoming which is then deposited into the reclamation account,” she explained. “They need to fix their tunnel. Our forefathers knew these days would occur and so they provided a funding mechanism to take care of our infrastructure.”
From young 4-H members donating the proceeds from the sale of their fair livestock to businesses, organizations and individuals stepping up to the plate to support the area farmers; the support of the community during this trying time has been incredible.
For official updates and news, follow the Goshen Irrigation District on Facebook or visit them at goshenirrigation.com.
In Wyoming, a donation account has been established at First State Bank to support the repair efforts in response to the irrigation canal collapse. 100 percent of the donations will be allocated to the Goshen Irrigation District to support their work in repairing the tunnel and the canal damage. Donations can be sent to: First State Bank, PO BOX 1098, Torrington WY 82240. Checks should be made out to: Goshen Irrigation District Donation Account.
Due to the remote locate of the tunnel collapse, the Goshen County Farm Bureau in Wyoming collected donations to help cover food costs for tunnel repair workers. Daily food costs ranged from $500 to $600 per day. To donate, checks can be made to the Goshen County Farm Bureau and mailed to Lori Schafer, 5858 Road 33, Veteran, WY 82243.