GERING — As of Friday morning, water in the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation canal had progressed 40 miles down its route without any issues.
Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District Manager Rick Preston said everything along the line is holding up well so far and that officials would likely bump up the flow of water Saturday. By Friday, the water was near Torrington, Wyoming, leaving about 90 miles to go to reach the bottom of the system in Nebraska. Beginning Saturday, Preston said the Goshen District would begin priming laterals. By Sunday, water should be crossing the state line, and by Tuesday the water should be at the end of the system. Water in the canal runs at about 1 mph.
“So, hopefully, by Thursday or Friday we should have everything primed and delivering water, I’m guessing,” Preston said. “Of course, that’s just a guess. This is all a different game for us. We’ve got to watch and see what happens.”
A July 17 collapse of a 2,200-foot tunnel along the canal near Fort Laramie, Wyoming, caused the districts to shut down water, eliminating irrigation for about 107,000 acres of cropland. The collapsed tunnel is the second of three tunnels along the 130-mile canal system.
While the return of water is a good first step, Preston said there is still much to be done on efforts to prevent similar failures in the future.
“I don’t know that I’ll be relieved until that’s all said and done,” he said.
Permanent repairs to Tunnel 2 as well as repairs to both Tunnel 1 and Tunnel 3 will likely need to be done after this year’s irrigation season and possibly still more after next season.
“There’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through to get the final approval on anything,” Preston said. “For someone on the outside looking in, it looks like it would all be easy, but there is just a lot of bureaucratic hoops that you have to get through.”
Those repairs will be expensive, and Preston said growers operating on tight margins already would have a hard time taking the hit for those costs. He said the irrigation districts would be looking at any and all grants available to help fund the repairs.
Although the United States Department of Agriculture has deemed the water loss as an insurable event, Preston said there will still be a huge financial impact from this event.
“This will affect this whole North Platte Valley for several years down the road,” he said. “From commodities not going through to equipment not being purchased to new vehicles not being purchased. There is a lot of money that’s being lost because those pivots didn’t run. There will be jobs lost because there wasn’t work to be done.”
Preston said he is pleased to see how well people have come together and handled the irrigation loss.
“I’m very proud of the public, the businesses, the irrigation districts, the state representatives, the federal representatives for how they’ve handled things,” he said. “So many of them have really gone the extra mile to get things accomplished.”