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Bringing an irrigation tunnel back

The collapse of the Gering-Fort Laramie irrigation tunnel is devastating crops, but water is starting to flow again.

Willie Vogt

September 9, 2019

3 Min Read
Gering-Fort Laramie irrigation tunnel
FLOWING AGAIN: Workers put in the extra hours to rebuild the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal tunnel that collapsed July 17, but water was still cut off from crops for more than six weeks. USDA ruled the event weather-related, so crop insurance will cover losses.Gary Stone, Nebraska Extension

The crop season of 2019 seems to be a continuing list of disasters, from spring flooding to heavy rain events. But for irrigators who get their water from the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal, it was the abrupt stop of the water supply that created the disaster.

On July 17, a 2,200-foot-long tunnel along the 130-mile canal route collapsed, cutting off water to more than 100,000 acres of cropland that relied on water from the Whelan Division Dam on the North Platte River. The tunnel brought water from the pool created by the dam to eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

The estimated cost impact for the event was put at $89 million by Wyoming and Nebraska researchers. Governors in both Wyoming and Nebraska issued disaster declarations. And workers started digging to get water flowing again.

When the tunnel collapsed, water on the Wyoming side built up and burst through canal walls, flooding nearby farmland. The cause of the tunnel collapse may have been heavy spring rains that overcame the system, though an actual cause was less of a concern in the midst of the crisis in trying to reopen the tunnel to get water flowing.

In early September, water from the tunnel started flowing again, after being shut down for six weeks. It took workers that long to get through the collapsed areas and reopen water flow for irrigators. The flow was turned back on gradually to get water moving to those parched areas.

Related:Tunnel collapse impact measured

Crop insurance news

As water started to flow again, farmers in the area learned that USDA said losses from the disaster would be covered under crop insurance policies. In issuing the statement, Bill Northey, undersecretary for farm production and conservation, issued a statement about the collapse and crop insurance:

“USDA has worked with local, state and federal partners over the past month as they investigated the cause of the Fort Laramie irrigation tunnel failure, which affected many Nebraska and Wyoming farmers. After reviewing preliminary assessments by the Department of the Interior and the National Weather Service, it has been determined that the cause of the collapse was weather-related. Based on that, USDA’s Risk Management Agency has notified its crop insurance providers that losses stemming from the canal failure can be covered under crop insurance policies. Affected producers should reach out to their crop insurance agents to file a claim.”

In making its assessment that collapse of the irrigation tunnel’s water flow was due to weather, USDA’s Risk Management Agency worked with Nebraska and Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management and the Fort Laramie-Gering and Goshen irrigation districts to determine the cause.

Data analysis for the region showed that the area received 200% to 300% above normal levels for precipitation for the past year — including rain and snowfall — and the impacted site received 100% to 200% above normal precipitation in the 30 days ahead of the collapse.

RMA will reinsure, in accordance with the terms and conditions of the standard reinsurance agreement, production and prevented planting losses if the approved insurance providers pay the full amount of the claims to producers — in accordance with the provisions of their 2019 crop policies.

The video below shows the impact of lack of water on dry beans in Nebraska. The camera was set up by John Thomas, cropping systems educator, Nebraska Extension.


About the Author(s)

Willie Vogt

Willie Vogt has been covering agricultural technology for more than 40 years, with most of that time as editorial director for Farm Progress. He is passionate about helping farmers better understand how technology can help them succeed, when appropriately applied.

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