Funding worth $2.3M earmarked for irrigation tunnel repair

10 February 2020

Nebraska – The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) announced USD 2.3M for the 100-year-old Gering-Ft. Laramie Tunnel repair work, on February 4.

Part of the BOR's 2020 spending plan, the Gering-Fort Laramie tunnel repairs are required following the collapse of the canal in July 2019, damaging all three of its tunnels. The tunnel in question was built in 1917 by the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the structure. The Goshen Irrigation District and Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District are responsible for operating and maintenance of the tunnel.

According to the University of Nebraska, the three tunnels are used to deliver water from the Whalen Dam on the North Platte River to the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal. The second tunnel, south of Fort Laramie, Wyoming, collapsed on July 17, 2019, causing a canal breach and disrupting service to more than 100,000 acres of irrigated crops in Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, and Goshen County, Wyoming. Water had been shut off at the Whalen Dam after the collapse to inspect and repair the tunnel. This left the 100,000 acres of cropland in Nebraska and Wyoming without irrigation water during a critical time in the growing season.

“This canal is critical to Nebraska agriculture, supplying surface water to approximately 55,000 acres of cropland including corn, sugarbeets, and dry edible beans. This funding will help western Nebraska farmers and families who feed the world to recover from the effects of this major disruption to irrigation,” said senator, Deb Fischer (R-Neb).

Water began flowing in the Gering-Fort Laramie and Goshen irrigation canal on August 28, following a nearly six-week disruption. The main tunnel collapse site had not been repaired but rather shored up to prevent more soil from entering the tunnel using 10ft tall x 20ft wide x 20ft long trench boxes, put in place above the tunnel to keep soil from entering the tunnel through the main collapse site. At the time it was decided it was more important to get water flowing again in the canal system before securing a permanent fix.

Several factors may have contributed to the tunnel collapse, the university reported. According to a report by the National Weather Service in Cheyenne “precipitation has been upwards of 200-300 per cent above normal for the past water year (October 1, 2018 to present).”