Canal update: Second collapse reached
The meeting to update stakeholders about the recent Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District canal breach and collapse began with a prayer and the recommendation that farmers raise crops as if water will return.
Rick Preston said work to install tunnel boxes and move soil has been around the clock and the canal itself is ready for water, save for some finishing dirt work. Canal repairs to 500 yards of canal bank utilized five bulldozers, three graders, two scrapers, three compactors and 40 dump truck loads of hardpan.
At a meeting in Scottsbluff, Neb., on Aug. 12, Preston said the crews had reached the first collapse and were working to excavate over 500 cubic yards of dirt and debris. The following day, he said crews had reached the second collapse and had begun installing a trench box to secure the area. Crews still must remove dirt and debris before the condition will be able to be assessed. The second collapse is approximately 675 feet inside the tunnel.
The end of the week should bring the completion of the installation of the shoring boxes and, with it, an estimate for when water will return. Preston said the contractor has warned that if the walls of the tunnel were lost in the second collapse, the chance of water returning is gone.
“That’s an absolute,” he said. “If it’s a minor collapse, he thinks maybe they can pour some temporary concrete but again, it’ll be closer to the end of the week before we know that scenario.”
In the tunnel, crews install a dam, remove water, dirt, and debris and then install another dam, slowing moving further into the dam. Work is slow due to water in the tunnel that moves as soil is moved. Crews are working 24 hours a day, with water posing their greatest challenge.
Preston thanked local businesses, the U.S. government, and local citizens for their support. He said financial support from the community has been strong and the crews have been supplied with lunch and water nearly daily.
Answers to the question of crop insurance to ease losses are still elusive. According to Jessica Groskopf, regional agricultural economist, crop insurance is intended to protect against “unavoidable, naturally occurring events” and it’s yet to be determined if crop loss due to the loss of water will be covered. No other federal programs, including FEMA, cover crop loss at this time. Groskopf told attendees they need to manage the crop like it will go to harvest, without destroying or abandoning the crop, before contacting their individual crop insurance company.
While the return of water may be getting closer, the fix is still temporary, though the repairs currently being completed are a part of the permanent solution. Preston said $4 million in emergency funds were secured from the Bureau of Reclamation and those funds will go a long way.
“The payback on that is something I think we can handle,” he said. “What we can’t handle is a payback on the final repair. At this point, we don’t have the definite numbers but I think they will be in hand sometime this week.”
The shoring installed is temporary, he said, to allow the flow of water now. The tunnel will be sleeved to allow for pipe installation. About 250 yards of grout have been pumped in to fill air space between the soil and the existing tunnel.
Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said he, and other elected officials in both Wyoming and Nebraska, have been in contact with the Bureau of Reclamation as well as the USDA and RMA to discuss crop insurance and reimbursement issues and federal aid.
“As you can appreciate, there are a lot of moving parts and certainly Rick and I appreciate everyone’s communication because there is a lot at stake here,” Smith said. “I hope we can ensure that federal barriers that exist are removed, and that ultimately, we can get everyone back on track here. It’s a work in progress with some funds already available but I’m fully aware that more funds are needed.”
In 2002, the company was on allocation and the struggle was running the canal at more than 50 percent capacity, a percentage that made it difficult for farmers to make a living farming.
“Today, we’re making history because we have no water in the system,” Preston said. “I don’t know about you but I have no interest in making history, not in 2002 and not today.” ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 392-4410.