Irrigation tunnel repairs run into new obstacle: water

Aerial view of tunnel collapse scene. Soil is being moved away from hole formed by collapse (conical depression, lower center). (Photo courtesy Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation district)
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August 12, 2019 - 5:22pm

Work crews trying to repair a ruptured irrigation tunnel that’s cut off water supplies to a hundred thousand acres of farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska are running into a new obstacle: water.

As crops bake in the August heat, Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District General Manager Rick Preston says crews are moving about 35,000 cubic yards of soil per day to reach the tunnel, which is about 110 feet below the surface.

View inside tunnel shows new steel shoring, foreground, and soil from collapse, background. Farther on, crews have run into water. (Photo courtesy Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District)


Meanwhile, Preston told a meeting in Scottsbluff Monday, 8-person crews are working their way through the 2,200-foot long tunnel from inside, shoring it up as they go along. But Preston says they’re running into water.

"These guys haven’t quit. They’re dealing with water I don’t know if its water that was trapped when the dirt fell in or it’s a natural spring trying to find its way through a major fracture. But they’re fighting water right now and that’s their biggest hurdle to try and get that under control,” Preston said.

Preston says it’ll be toward the end of this week before contractors know whether temporary repairs can be made in time to restore irrigation water this year through what is known as tunnel two. Meanwhile, he says there may also be problems in two other tunnels on the century-old system.

“The Bureau of Reclamation has inspected tunnels one and three and has told me there are issues with those. But at this point I don’t know – I’ve not received their report – they just done that last week,” he said.

Preston said the Bureau has provided $4 million for temporary repairs, which he says the local districts should be able to pay back. But he said they won’t be able to pay for a permanent fix, like inserting a 13-foot diameter “sleeve” inside the old tunnel.

Third District Representative Adrian Smith told the meeting he knows it’ll take more.

“It is, like I said, a work in progress, with some funds already available, and I’m fully aware that more funds are needed,” Smith said.

Smith added once there are better numbers for how much a long-term fix will cost, a request for federal funds can move forward.



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