GID and GFLD provide updates on tunnel collapse repairs
Both the Goshen Irrigation District (GID) and the Gering-Fort Laramie District (GFLD) held a second round of stakeholder meetings on Aug. 12, to update producers on the progress of repairs being made to the Gering-Fort Laramie Canal irrigation tunnel following its collapse on July 17.
According to GID and GFLD, the canal itself is repaired and ready for water, while progress is still being made on sinkhole excavation and tunnel repairs.
Progress made, timeline unknown
When it comes to sinkhole excavation, the crew is currently in the process of installing large trench boxes to surround the collapsed tunnel ceiling from above. Once completed, the above ground crew will analyze the tunnel for safety and stability.
Progress is being made on the tunnel as well.
“A lot of progress is being made on the tunnel. On average, our contractor has eight men, working 24 hours around the clock, on three different crews, with about five men in the tunnel and two or three above ground,” explained Rick Preston, Gering-Fort Laramie irrigation manager, at the GFLD meeting held in the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research Center in Scottsbluff, Neb. “The tunnel crew has made it past the first collapse which was about a five-foot diameter area.”
“Right now, the crews are going in and building a dam, moving soil and putting shoring up to support the top, then repeating the process every so many feet,” Preston continued. “They have moved nearly 500 cubic yards of dirt from the first sinkhole and used close to 200 yards of grout. It takes about an hour to put in one joint, so they still have a long way to go.”
“The tunnel crew is working on the second collapse as we speak, but they aren’t sure how big it is and therefore don’t know how long it will take,” said Preston. “The contractor won’t commit to giving us a date for when we will get our water back and says giving us a timeline is a shot in the dark. There are a lot of unknowns.”
While addressing the crowd at the GID meeting held at Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington, Shawn Booth, GID secretary and treasurer, was optimistic about the return of water.
“I am hopeful we will get water at the end of August or first of September,” Booth said. “The contractor should let us know exactly when we will get our water back by the end of the week.”
A permanent fix
Both districts also updated stakeholders on the progress of a permanent fix.
“Everything they are doing right now will be applied to the permanent repairs, so we are not throwing money at this foolishly,” Preston told attendees at the Scottsbluff meeting.
“Long term, we are looking at all of our options,” Booth explained at the Torrington meeting. “We have talked about slipping a 13-foot sleeve inside the existing tunnel, building a canal where the tunnel is or even re-concreting the tunnel that is already there.”
Cost and funding
Amidst a plethora of unknowns, cost and funding for the project are the two biggest questions.
GID and GFLD received a 50-year loan from the Bureau of Reclamation for $4 million. However, the loan only covers a fraction of the cost of repairs.
In an effort to procure more money for the lofty expense, GID has raised stakeholder taxes $5 per acre.
At the meeting in Torrington, State Sen. Cheri Steinmetz offered Goshen County producers an update on state level funding.
“We have two different meetings coming up,” said Steinmetz. “The Select Water Committee meeting will take place in Buffalo on Aug. 13. They have put us on their agenda, so we are hoping to gain some funding there and discuss emergency funds for disasters like this is the future. The second meeting is on Aug. 16, and this is a special state loan and investments board meeting where the top five elected officials make decisions.”
“There are funds available through the Emergency Mineral Royalty Grant of about $9 million to last the state through the rest of the year. We have applied for some of this money for GID, but there are some questions about whether GID is eligible or not,” Steinmetz added. “This will be decided at the Aug. 16 meeting.”
She continued, “It is absolutely imperative that agencies across the state recognize the public benefit irrigation districts provide, not just for the landowners who utilize them, but for their entire communities and our whole state.”
Producers in the area are also looking to their crop insurance providers for relief. However, it is still being determined if the tunnel collapse is covered by crop insurance, according to University of Nebraska Extension Educator Jessica Groskopf.
“Crop insurance provides protection against unavoidable, naturally occurring events,” stated Groskopf. “Due to the complexity of this situation, it is unknown if crop insurance will cover crop loss in this area.”
“All crop insurance policies, regardless of the crop insurance agent, are subject to the same provisions. So if it is determined that the tunnel collapse was not from an unavoidable, naturally occurring event, all crop insurance policy holders on the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal would not receive an indemnity payment for their crop loss,” Groskopf added.
She continued, “Until the exact cause of the tunnel collapse is determined, producers need to manage their crop as if they are going to harvest and water will return at any moment. Absolutely do not destroy crops before contacting a crop insurance agent.”
Hope and optimism
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) offered a few words of encouragement to the crowd.
“After taking a look at the sinkhole and walking 650 feet into the tunnel, the thing that struck me the most was the total amount of work that has been done in the last few weeks,” stated Barrasso. “I would like to thank everyone on the Goshen Irrigation District for the remarkable work they have done.”
Barrasso continued, “Everywhere I go in Wyoming, I have people asking me what’s going on with the water in Goshen County and the coal in Gillette. Everyone in this state cares about each other.”
Although work is progressing on the Gering-Fort Laramie Canal Irrigation Tunnel, GID, GFLD and locals are left with many unknowns and face an uncertain future. Yet, despite their bleak circumstance, they remain optimistic and in good spirits.
‘There are a few positives in all of this,” laughed GID President Robert Coxbill. “The sheriff hasn’t paid me a visit to let me know my water is on the road and my shoes, socks and feet are a lot drier than they usually are this time of year.”
Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.