Gering Ft. Laramie Irrigation District GM fears devastation for farmers

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TORRINGTON, Wyo. - (KNEP) - The Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Districts are still assessing the extent of damage after a tunnel collapse.

According to Goshen Irrigation District, the collapse occurred early Wednesday morning about a mile and a half south of the town of Fort Laramie. This is causing water to back up and breach the canal bank upstream of the tunnel.

Rick Preston, general manager of Gering Fort Laramie Irrigation District stated the tunnel that collapsed is about 21-2200 feet in length, 14 foot tall and 21 feet wide. There’s also about 120-130 feet of dirt on top of it. The only way to examine it is internally. The tunnel is inspected every other year by the Bureau of Irrigation as well as the two irrigation districts that use it. There was nothing of concern and Preston added this was unforeseen.

Preston added they have contractors, engineers and geologists are out looking at everything. They will have to wait until they are done to get a complete idea. Preston fears if they can’t get the water running in 15-20 days then there won’t be any crops for farmers to irrigate.

This system stretches 85 miles from Fort Laramie to the Nebraska state line and irrigates 53,000 acres. It also flows another 45 miles east past the Nebraska state line with another roughly 55,000 acres irrigated.

Goshen Irrigation District shut off the water supply at the Whalen Dam and is requesting the Bureau of Reclamation to reduce flows out of the Guernsey Reservoir. Preston said this will affect the downstream water users as well as the farmers.

Preston is unsure if there is enough financial aid or money to help farmers out.

“I would be willing to bet that this will be a devastating loss to farmers,” said Preston.

He added there could possibly be some that file for bankruptcy or walk away from the agriculture industry because of this.
The Fort Laramie Canal is over a hundred years old and was one of four government projects as part of the North Platte Project.

This event will also have a trickle-down effect for the economy and merchants. It is unknown how long the project will take.