Tunnel Collapse Cuts Off Irrigation to 100,000 Acres in Western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming

July 24, 2019, 3:36 p.m. ·

The entrance to the Gering-Fort Laramie-Goshen irrigation canal tunnel that caved in, midway through its 2200- foot length, 110 feet below ground. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Some western Nebraska farmers are facing devastating crop losses after a tunnel collapse in eastern Wyoming cut off their water supply.

The Gering-Ft. Laramie-Goshen canal ordinarily carries water from the North Platte River to irrigate more than 100,000 acres in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. But last Wednesday, part of a 102-year old concrete tunnel on the canal collapsed, blocking that water. Wednesday, an overflow crowd packed a Scottsbluff meeting room to hear an update on the situation.

Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District General Manager Rick Preston said officials are working on a temporary fix which will involve working into the tunnel, inserting steel ribs covered with metal plates and grout, hoping to clear a path to resume the flow.

“This is a long shot. We don’t even know what’s in there. In a perfect situation, you’re looking at 21 days before we can get water back into the system,” Preston said.


A crowd of farmers and others on hand for a meeting on plans to restore the Gering-Ft. Laramie irrigation canal. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Gering–area farmer Preston Stricker said he’s coped with water shortages before, but never a complete cutoff. “The effects? Nobody’s ever tried this, so we don’t know yet. But it could be devastating, with no rain and the heat the way it generally is at the end of July, the first part of August. Corn’s in its pollinating stage within the next week to 10 days, and a very, very critical time, so the yield drag could be tremendous,” Sticker said.

Xin Qiao, a University of Nebraska irrigation management specialist, said that if corn doesn’t get any irrigation water by mid-August, that could cut yields by 80-90 percent.

In addition to how long the outage will last, other questions include who will pay for repairs, and how much, if any of the losses will be covered by crop insurance.