Wednesday, July 17, was a tough day for the North Platte Valley. That day a section of the 14-foot-diameter, 102-year-old irrigation canal tunnel collapsed, stopping the flow of precious irrigation water to 107,000 acres of crops in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

The canal is part of the North Platte Project built by the Bureau of Reclamation that, during the past century, has transformed this valley into one of the most productive regions in the entire country. This canal was carrying water to 35% of the total surface-water-irrigated acres in our valley during a critical time of crop development.

One week later, Wednesday, July 24, two informational meetings were convened by the affected irrigation district boards and directors to update their members on the situation. I attended both meetings. The University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center (PHREC) personnel were able to step forward and help the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District that morning in Scottsbluff. Correspondingly, the University of Wyoming Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) near Lingle assisted the Goshen Irrigation District with an afternoon meeting in Torrington.

As I drove back toward Scottsbluff from Torrington, I was feeling just a small portion of the tremendous burden that I had seen in the faces of the farmers in each of those meetings. Valiant men and women who devote their lives to producing food by growing crops were now facing the risk of devastating crop losses.

That’s when what I term a “tender mercy” occurred for me. As a way to take my mind off the situation at hand, I was listening to music from Pandora radio through the speakers in my car. Perhaps as a sign of hope and comfort, I heard the voice of one of my all-time favorite country singers, Eddy Arnold, singing the words:

“I see trees of green, red roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white

The bright blessed day the dark sacred night

And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky

Are also on the faces of people going by

I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

They’re really sayin’ I love you

I hear babies cry I watch them grow

They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know

And I think to myself what a wonderful world

Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world”

This experience caused me to stop and think about some of the wonderful things that had occurred during the day in response to the needs of others. Here are a few:

·I recalled hearing about the gracious people of this region who were providing food and water to the people at work to rebuild and restore the canal bank that washed out when the water backed up after the tunnel collapse.

·I thought of the understanding family whose farm, and almost their home, was washed away when the tremendous flood of water from the canal poured over the bank, who received the engineers and other numerous officials to converge on their farm to assess the situation and develop a plan for repair.

·I learned of the hotel owners who greatly reduced their lodging fees to accommodate the needs of the many workers already on site and those yet to arrive.

·I was touched to learn in the meeting of auto dealers who were donating pickups and other equipment to support the repair processes.

·I heard about the “all for one – and one for all” approach of the surrounding irrigation districts, not directly affected, who brought their equipment and manpower to help restore the canal banks.

·I also recalled the feeling of divine support that permeated the meeting in Scottsbluff following the petition offered by the pastor of the Westway Christian Church as the meeting began.

·I thought of the “grit” I had seen evidenced by Rick Preston, Director of the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District, as he explained the events that had taken place and the hours of discussion and counseling together that had taken place by the Board of Directors to arrive at a plan to go forward.

·How I had observed the unity of purpose displayed by various organizations, not the least of which occurred with the two universities from Nebraska and Wyoming, to support and inform all.

·For the insight of local clergy who organized a prayer rally this week to further seek a rapid resolution to the situation, the tempering of the elements, and divine support and solace for the many impacted by this disaster.

I know we are not out of the woods with this situation. I realize suffering will happen to many as a result of this disaster. I can only imagine how stressful it is for those farmers on the front line that watch day-to-day the stress on their crops and look to fleeting storm clouds for some hope pf relief. However, know you are not alone. We live in a great country and a great valley that feeds not only our people, but also the people of the world. We will get through this. “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

Finally, I express my admiration to the farmers, landowners, and irrigation officials who are enduring this tragedy. All those in the North Platte valley, and beyond, are hopeful that the damage to crops from the absence of irrigation water will be minimal.

Are you affected by the Goshen-Gering Ft. Laramie Canal break in Nebraska? Many resources are available to help. Rural Response Hotline offers free no-cost vouchers for confidential mental health services, They also provide legal assistance, financial clinics, mediation and emergency assistance, 800-464-0258.

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