UPDATE: Water to be turned on in the canal Wednesday night
UPDATE: The Gering - Fort Laramie Irrigation District Office has told NBC Nebraska that water will be turned back on Wednesday night. It is unknown exactly when producers will receive water. We will continue to update as more information becomes available.
Agricultural producers and the public is updated on the ongoing reconstruction of the Gering – Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal.
According to Irrigation District General Manager Rick Preston, contractors are now on the second and major tunnel collapse. As of right now, they know an eight foot wide section to the roof broke up and slid down. They are not sure how long it is and are not sure yet if the side walls were impacted as well.
If the side walls received damage then the crew will have to move toward a more permanent fix. Preston said the contractor told him if the walls are a loss then chances of getting water is gone. He added the rebuilding of the embankment is complete, aside from some minor details, and the canal itself is ready for water.
Inside the tunnel, three crews of eight individuals are working around the clock. It is unknown exactly how water is getting in, there are some speculations, but it is presenting problems for the crews. To get around it they are building dams and moving soil while putting in shoring. It takes about an hour to put in a joint. Right now, they are moving 35,000 cubic yards per day of soil and are placing trench boxes for support.
Preston added they received $4 million in federal assistance to work on the project but it remain unknown what the whole project will cost. By the end of the week they are hoping to have shoring box in place and find out from contractors when water will be available.
Third District Congressman Adrian Smith, who was in attendance, stated he is working closely with Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney and others to try to help out as much as he can. Smith is going to talk to Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, who is head of the Ag appropriations committee as well. Smith is hoping that a better grasp of cost numbers will help with requests.
It remains unknown if crop insurance will be made available and producers are urged to continue tending to their crops as if they were to go to harvest. It is also unknown just how much water the canal will be able to carry once the work is done.
The University of Wyoming is also helping out by using ground penetrating equipment to assess things as well. The Bureau of Reclamation has also looked at tunnels one and three and found a few issues, but Preston adds they are minor and is still waiting on the full report.
Smith mentioned this is just another reason why he believes infrastructure should also include irrigation. He added it’s a very sophisticated system and hates that something like this had to come up to grow the appreciation for irrigation assets. Smith went on to say this system, especially for the Panhandle, enables us to have a quality of life that wouldn’t be available otherwise.
Preston went on to say his deepest appreciation for all those helping out including the federal side, the banking institutions and the people themselves. He understands everyone is frustrated, irritated and on edge and finds it understandable. With that said everyone involved has also been complementary. Some producers have told him if they don’t get water by the end of the week crops will burn up. Preston knows some were able to get a full irrigation on crops before the collapse and others received some rain but others are looking at potential loss of beans and corn beyond any acceptable type of yield. He went on to add sugar beets can go deeper in the soil to grab moisture but at this point they are in survival mode instead of growing.
With all that said, if and when they get the water flowing again, Preston is going to ask the Bureau of Reclamation for an extension on the season. The irrigation district is contracted from May 1st to September 30th of each year. On that last day of September the district has to shut off water. Preston is hoping if they can continue with good growing weather he would like to get another seven to ten days in October for irrigation water. This will allow producers to irrigate grains which could offset next year’s financial burden.
For now, crews will continue to work tirelessly to try and get the water flowing again with constituents discussing ways to help everyone. It is unknown at this time if and when there will be another public meeting to provide an update. Preston is hopeful he can get some more concrete projections and numbers from contractors by the end of the week.