Water will flow, money questions remain for Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District

Temporary repairs will enable water to flow this summer through tunnels serving the Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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April 22, 2020 - 12:14pm

Tunnel repairs mean irrigation water will flow to Scotts Bluff County farmers this summer. But uncertainty over costs mean questions still remain about whether all of them can remain in business.


Scotts Bluff County farmers got some good news last week, when it was announced the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would foot 35 percent of $2.3 million worth of repairs to an irrigation tunnel in Scotts Bluff County.

That tunnel is one of three century-old tunnels along a nearly 130 mile-long canal system that delivers North Platte River water to irrigate more than 100,000 acres in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

Last July, one of those tunnels in eastern Wyoming collapsed, cutting off water and decimating crop yields before water was restored more than a month later.

So far, Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District General Manager Rick Preston says, the district’s share of temporary repair costs is about $7 million. There’s almost $4 million in the state budget toward that, but Preston said that money has been delayed.

“We do have some grants coming in. Of course they’ve been slowed down because of the COVID-19. But once things are up and going again, we get the Legislature up and going again, we get the Congress up and going again, things of that nature, then those monies will continue through the approval process and once that’s done we should be receiving those funds as well,” Preston said.

 Still to come is the addition cost of permanent repairs, using what’s called “permeation grouting.”

“’Permeation grouting’ will be pressure pumping liquid cement into the existing materials around the tunnel. And that, in turn, will encase the existing tunnel with a 10 to 12 foot-thick concrete hard-type material. That way if anything shifts or moves in the future, that eight or ten or twelve feet of material will not move like it did this last time,” Preston explained.

Last year’s tunnel collapse was blamed on heavy spring rains that saturated the soil above the tunnel.  Preston says permeation grouting to prevent that could cost another $7.5 to $10 million. And he said there’s a limit to what local farmers, who pay fees for water to supply the irrigation district’s budget, can afford.

“It’s going to be a financial burden, and how many people can survive long enough financially to continue to carry that burden is just a question mark that’s out there. That’s the reason we’re pursuing all the grants that we can get our hands on to try to keep a viable economy, a viable production going forward,” he said.

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