The July collapse of the irrigation tunnel near Fort Laramie, Wyo., has cut off surface water from the North Platte River to more than 108,000 acres in Wyoming and Nebraska. Work continues on trying to clear the 2,200-foot-long tunnel, which has gotten more complicated as crews find more holes and damage, according to local media reports.
The financial impact for Wyoming and Nebraska could top $89 million in crop losses, if fields cut off from water by the collapse are a total loss. That’s according to research from the University of Wyoming and Nebraska Extension services.
Inspection and repairs have continued since the collapse, which resulted in a breach of the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal. The tunnel is key to connecting water from the North Platte River to a canal system in Wyoming and Nebraska. The 2,200-foot-long canal is about 110 feet belowground and 14 feet in diameter, and it is unknown when water will be returned to the canal.
Brian Lee and Roger Coupal, agricultural economists with the University of Wyoming, say the economic analysis assumes a total loss of corn, dry edible beans and sugarbeets in the region, and loss of about one-third of the alfalfa crop.
Production of irrigated crops is key to Goshen County, Wyo., and Scotts Bluff County, Neb., where farmers rely on added water for those key crops. The economic impact model was produced with the best data available given the variability of agriculture, says Lee, who is based at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center near Lingle, Wyo.
Other crops in the region were not considered due to lack of data. Potential indemnity payments were not included because of the uncertainty of crop losses being covered by insurance.
Added Jessica Groskopf, Nebraska Extension regional economist: “If farmers are unable to sell these commodities, there will be a negative impact not only on our farmers, but on our main streets. It is important for our communities to understand the hardships our farmers are facing, and realize the loss of these crops could ripple through our economy.”
You can see the complete report at go.unl.edu/canal. The affected counties receive less than 16 inches of annual precipitation, which makes surface water irrigation a key component for agriculture in the area, Groskopf adds.
For related information, read these articles: Growers in North Platte Valley face critical water loss with canal damage and Gov. Ricketts issues disaster declaration after collapse of major irrigation tunnel, sets visit to Scottsbluff area.
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