GOSHEN COUNTY, Wyo. — Ag producers along the Gering/Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal are breathing a bit easier this week after consultants from around the nation met with district officials over the weekend. What had appeared to be a business-threatening event for farmers from Whalen Dam in eastern Wyoming to the Scotts Bluff National Monument area in the Panhandle, may have been modified during several days of meetings.
“We’re totally confident now that we’re going to get water,” explained Dennis Eisenbarth, who farms between Torrington and Lingle. He, along with dozens of other producers, rely heavily on water provided by the century-old irrigation system. “It's a good plan, with our only concern being that it might not be soon enough.”
Tentative plans call for inserting a steel sleeve into the 2,100-foot-long tunnel to carry the water, while work is underway to rebuild the section of the canal that was washed out upstream of the partially collapsed tunnel.
The proposals will be presented during two public meetings on Wednesday, July 24. The 10 a.m. session will be at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, and at 2 p.m. at Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington. The meetings are offered by the irrigation districts and extension educators.
While producers are breathing somewhat easier, they still face the economic impact of reduced production from their fields, which translates to less income. They also must deal with crop insurance issues, any applicable federal disaster programs, and repaying loans they obtained to produce the crops in the first place.
“Right now, things are looking a lot better,” Eisenbarth said Monday morning. “With cooler weather, and these showers we’ve had, the crops don’t have to draw as much on the root moisture. This should help minimize our crop losses.”
If all goes according to plan, the canal should be ready to deliver water again within three to four weeks. This will meet the demands of the crops, as well as ease the stress on the producers.
Approximately 45-50 acres were inundated as water gushed through a 350-400 foot breach in the canal on July 17, upstream from the 2,200-foot tunnel. The event occurred about 13.5 miles east of Whalen Dam. A collapse of the tunnel, leaving a hole approximately 50-60 feet in diameter in the hilltop above, caused the event. The system serves about 104,000 acres in Wyoming and Nebraska.