CAID faces challenges due to aging infrastructure
The Casper Alcova Irrigation District (CAID), like most other irrigation districts across the state of Wyoming, is struggling to maintain the upkeep of its irrigation infrastructure. Much of the infrastructure across the state of Wyoming exceeds 100 years in age, and multiple districts have dealt with infrastructure collapses.
“We had a catastrophic failure last year,” says CAID Manager Drew James. “We had to shut down the water to approximately 8,400 acres.”
The construction process for CAID’s main canal began in 1934 and was completed around 1937-38. The canal is 62 miles long and irrigates 24,249 acres, stretched out across 50,000 acres.
James says there’s a big emphasis on repairing all of the infrastructure as it’s nearing 88 years of operating.
“Everything is getting older,” he says. “Concrete only lasts so long before it’s going to crack and break.”
CAID has an immense amount of infrastructure, so maintenance and development is a huge challenge for the crew.
“When they constructed the project, it was meant to hold a bigger capacity than what it is now – it was supposed to be doubled in size, so all of our infrastructure is a lot bigger than it needs to be,” says James. “We have six tunnels in the project, and we operate and maintain five of those. There’re about 13 large siphons going under the natural drainage.”
This is a lot of infrastructure and a large area for a small irrigation district with only eight full-time employees to cover.
“There are also drains we have to maintain as well – it’s the cost of upkeep that’s a huge burden, not only for us, but every irrigation district in the state,” James says. “To get everything back up to where it needs to be without the risks of failures is a pretty daunting task.”
Level one studies
The Wyoming Water Development is aware of the struggles and challenges Wyoming irrigation districts are facing. They are performing water resource studies across Wyoming, says James. Wyoming Water Development approved CAID for a level one study, which will take roughly 13 months to complete.
The state of Wyoming will also be doing a level one study on the critical aging of irrigation infrastructure, so they are taking a 30 thousand foot view of the entire state and the aging infrastructure, he mentioned.
“In the last three years, three irrigation districts have had catastrophic failures: Deaver Irrigation District, CAID and Goshen Irrigation District,” he says. “So, the state is taking a step to see what they can do to help us, but it is more of a burden on the producers and the stakeholders within the district than they can bear at this point.”
Public meetings are being held across the state for the aging infrastructure study. The Casper meeting is scheduled for Oct. 26 at the fairgrounds from 6-8 p.m.
“I think a lot of people need to go to these meetings, listen, take part and put their two cents in with what they really want to see happen with this study,” he says. “With this study being at the state level, I think they want these meetings because they want more input from everybody to see what they want to have done.”
and call to action
CAID plans to take on bigger projects, but rising prices and inflation are proving to be a challenge for the district.
“As far as resources, pipelines are pretty much out of the picture right now with the price it’s at,” says James. “We are thinking outside of the box to try to go after every resource we can.”
CAID recently proposed a significant rate increase for irrigated water users. These increases have not yet been approved.
“This rate increase is a necessity for the operation and maintenance of the district,” he shares.
CAID is planning to accomplish significant work with the rate increase, says James, and the fee increase will benefit producers in the long run.
“We aren’t here to put any producer out of business – we are doing everything we can to improve the system so they can produce better crops,” he adds.
James also says CAID is working to receive as many grants as possible and working with Wyoming Water Development and other agencies to fund projects.
“We want to create a system where it works for today rather than what it was meant to work for 80 years ago,” he says. “We are trying to do as much as we can with what we have. We understand we are not going to fix every little problem but hopefully in the near future, we will have a five to 10 year plan to revamp the entire system.”
CAID’s main concern is keeping the water flowing and doing everything they can for the bigger picture of the district, says James.
“I do understand the on-farm issues are there as well, but making sure the main source is still intact is our main priority,” James says.
“Overall, we have a great team here who really cares about the work they are doing,” he says. “We want to see producers be successful, and we are trying to give producers the best they can get. Ag sustains the economy in this area, and agriculture doesn’t exist without water, so CAID has an important job to do.”
“We want to proactively preserve the infrastructure for 50 years down the road, not just for tomorrow,” he says.
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.