irrigation farm teaser

FT. LARAMIE, Wyo. — A breach in the Ft. Laramie Canal in Wyoming has forced the Bureau of Reclamation in Mills to stop water deliveries to ag producers on the south side of the North Platte River in both Wyoming and Nebraska.

“Apparently, there was a collapse in a tunnel along the Ft. Laramie Canal about a mile-and-a-half south of Ft. Laramie,” said Jay Dallman, public affairs representative with the Bureau of Reclamation. “The collapse blocked the canal outflow and the backup caused a breach in the canal bank.”

The collapse occurred at about 2 a.m. on July 17. The Goshen Irrigation District were alerted to a problem. The breach was found at about 3 a.m. and the Goshen district got approval to shut off the source at Whalen Dam, reducing flows out of Guernsey.

“Now they’re working to get that section of canal dewatered so they can inspect the problem and make any needed repairs,” Dallman said. “It should take a day or so to pump out the water, before the district and the Bureau of Reclamation conduct the inspection on Friday.”

The Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District is also among the districts impacted by the canal breach. Director Rick Preston said that between his district and Goshen in Wyoming, they irrigate about 105,000 acres of farmland.

“If we can’t get water back in the ditch as quickly as possible, the producers will turn into dryland farmers on irrigated agriculture,” Preston said. “They’re faced with not having a crop this year, so it’s vital we do everything we can over the next couple of weeks to address this catastrophic failure. We have to get the lifeblood back into the valley.”

Several options are being considered, but some of them would take a minimum of two weeks to get water back into the system.

“Depending on where this failure is, there are a lot of safety issues to consider,” Preston said. “After the bureau makes the inspection, we’ll have a better idea of what needs to be done.”

Preston said this breach came at a very bad time for the area’s ag producers.

“If this had happened in September, producers probably would have made a crop. But it came at the most critical time of the year for the farmers. It could be a devastating blow to our landowners and a financial hardship.”

He added the district is pursuing every financial opportunity available to help both the district and the producers, but right now, nothing is for sure.

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.