Collapse of irrigation tunnel threatens ag production in Scotts Bluff County

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. -- Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an emergency declaration following the collapse of a major tunnel that transports water from Whalen Dam in Wyoming to Scotts Bluff County.

Disruption of the water supply, which is vital for irrigation, is having an adverse impact on agricultural producers in the Nebraska Panhandle and the governor planned to visit Scottsbluff Thursday.

“Our farmers in Western Nebraska have lost access to water at a critical time in the growing season,” Governor Ricketts said. “Since the canal failure, I have been in frequent communication with Wyoming Governor Gordon, Senator Erdman, and Senator Stinner about the situation both personally and through my staff and Director of Natural Resources. Today, I’ve issued a disaster declaration in response to this significant hardship as we work together to get our farmers and ranchers the help they need.”

The emergency declaration took effect Thursday and allows resources to flow into the area.

Sen. Ben Sasse issued a statement in which he is quoted as saying, “Governor Ricketts’ emergency declaration is an important step, and my office will continue working with local producers and federal agencies to find solutions.”

The collapsed irrigation tunnel—located along the Fort Laramie Canal southwest of Fort Laramie, Wyoming—normally services around 55,000 acres in Nebraska. Government officials, engineers, and natural resources managers are working to restore the supply of water.

The general manager of the Gering Fort Laramie Irrigation District said if all goes well it would be at least 21 days before water returns to the canal.

During a meeting on the problem Wednesday, those affected were told officials are currently looking at a temporary solution which is estimated to cost $3 million to $3.5 million.

Farmer Steve Pitts said, “I was one time on the board of directors of the Gering Fort Laramie. It’s well realized that I think that it needs updated. Funding available is really, really tough to put on the backs of all the farmers, um, so hopefully in the future maybe this will wake up some people and we'll get some funding.”

An expert with the Panhandle Extension Center calculated the impact on crops with assumptions that there wouldn't be any water or rainfall. Based on that assessment, the impact on the corn and bean crop could be devastating.

The canal was built in 1910.

Irrigation tunnel collapse