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Irrigation tunnel collapse threatens 104,000 acres of farmland

FORT LARAMIE – A portion of a tunnel on the Gering-Fort Laramie irrigation canal has caused water to back up and breach the canal a mile upstream from the collapse and will essentially bring irrigation along the canal to a halt until it is repaired.

More than 104,000 acres of farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska could be affected by the collapse and the ensuing lack of irrigation water.

According to Division 1 water superintendent Brian Pugsley, the tunnel collapsed sometime in the early morning hours of July 17.

“All we know right now is that sometime early this morning, the number two tunnel on the Gering-Fort Laramie canal collapsed,” Pugsley said. “Essentially, it plugged the tunnel and in turn it backed water up into the canal and essentially breached the canal approximately a mile upstream from that tunnel.”

Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson Jay Dallman said the incident happened sometime around 3 a.m. July 17.

“During the early morning hours today, somewhere around 3 or 3:30 a.m., the Goshen Irrigation District became aware of a problem in the Fort Laramie canal because of some high and low water alarms on the canal,” Dallman said. “When they investigated, they had this apparent collapse in the tunnel a mile and a half south of Fort Laramie. They then shut the water off at Whalen Dam.”

Dallman said the GID personnel contacted the Bureau to stop water flows out of Guernsey Reservoir.

“They called us and asked us the reduce flows out of Guernsey reservoir, which we did,” Dallman said . “Now there is no water going into the For t Laramie canal. There are 13 miles of canal there, and that water has to go somewhere before we can get the tunnel dewatered to even do the inspection.”

Pugsley said the Goshen Irrigation District (GI D) i s currently pumping water out of the tunnel downstream from the collapse. Until the water is gone, he said, it’s impossible to know how much of the tunnel collapsed, how it will be repaired or how long it will take to be repaired.

“We don’t know,” he said. “We don’t have any idea . All I know right now is that GID is working on pumping what water is still in the tunnel from the downstream side. They were going to start pumping water out of that. They were going to bring some engineers in from the Bureau of Reclamation to do some evaluation or analysis on what the extent of damage is.”

According to a press release from the GI D, approximately 104,000 acres of farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska use the canal to irrigate.

“The districts are working to assess the extent of the damage and formulating plans to repair the tunnel and canal bank,” the press release said. “At this time, there is no projection of how long it will take to complete the repairs and restore the canal to service.”

The loss of the irrigation canal could prove disastrous for local farmers who rely on it, as temperatures for the next 10 days will remain in the 80s and 90s with sunny conditions.