Casper hosts irrigation infrastructure public meeting
A Critical Aging Irrigation Infrastructure Assessment public meeting was held in Casper on Oct. 26. Attendees gathered to discuss aging irrigation infrastructure in the area. Representatives from state and federal agencies attended to discuss additional funding opportunities for resource-related projects.
Wyoming Sen. Brian Boner gave an opening statement during the October meeting. He noted much of the state’s irrigation infrastructure is more than 100 years old.
Roughly two years ago, the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) and Select Water Committee decided an assessment was needed in order to minimize the economic impacts and distributions to producers as a result of aging irrigation infrastructure failures.
“I appreciate the WWDC for coming up with this method of attacking this problem,” said Boner. “They are well known – very methodical and strategic in the way they attack problems.”
“We’re in the process of doing an assessment and figuring out what we are going to prioritize and go from there,” he added. “We’re not just concerned with the importance of this for our ag community, but for private property as well.”
“We’ve worked hard. We hope to take care of current concerns and needs of our legislators,” mentioned WWDC Office Project Manager Chace Tavelli.
“When we say the word systematic inventory – that’s what we’re doing,” Trihydro Corporation Manager Jay Schug said. “The legislature approved the project and the WWDC put it out for competitive bid – I represent Trihydro Corporation, and we won the project.”
“One thing I stress on any project I’ve done with the WWDC in my 30 years of doing this is we’re going to be out here doing this project in the next year and a half as it wraps up next December, 2023 – we’re going to know it pretty well, but we’re talking the whole state now, so we really need local input,” he added.
In addition to Trihydro Corporation working on the project, other sub consultants are also involved, including: Western Water Consultants of Laramie, Follum Hydrologic Solutions of Casper and RJH Geotechnical Engineering and Consulting firm of Denver.
“A lot of these structures are over 100 years old, and we’ve inventoried structures in the state in masterplans we’ve done with individual projects. We see a lot of these structures being 100 years old, and it’s amazing how good condition a lot of them are, but they are all getting old and are not all in that good of shape,” he said.
In 2019, Irrigation Tunnel Number Two on the Gering-Fort Laramie Canal collapsed, leaving more than 100,000 acres of cropland in Wyoming and Nebraska without water. After the collapse, inspections on Tunnel Number One on the same canal revealed major structural deficiencies. The damage to the tunnels affected around 107,000 acres of the North Platte River.
Recent inspections of Wyoming’s irrigation system have turned up problems with the LaPrele Dam near Douglas.
“Something doesn’t typically get a lot of attention until it fails,” Schug mentioned. “Our job is to build a database of aging irrigation structures throughout the state and highlight those in danger of imminent failure.
Currently, Trihydro Corporation has a contract with the state outlining tasks including: reviewing existing information, meetings, criticality definition and determination of ranking criteria, infrastructure assessment plan, infrastructure rehabilitation plan and recommendations, phase two development (if necessary) and the remaining tasks are a discretionary task and draft and final reporting and presentations.
“As we continue down through these tasks, we’re narrowing the arrow as it gets more and more focused – we’re starting with everything, and then sorting and figuring out how to prioritize so the state can start figuring out where we are and how to proactively move forward,” he said.
“If you’re an irrigator, we would like to know what your management concerns are,” Schug said. “Are there structures keeping you awake at night? What do you have for input on the task of defining criticality – we’d appreciate your input.”
Tavelli briefly discussed several WWDC funding options for the project. He discussed a WWDC program overview including levels one, two, three and small water.
“We’ve had a lot of entities come to these meetings and ask questions about funding,” he said.
It’s important to note this is a state project and funds are tight right now – the WWDC is very careful with its projects and funding, and in order to qualify, entities need at least 1,000 or more water right acres, he explained.
Currently, there are three levels of projects – level one and two are planning studies, and level three is a construction project.
“Level one is an overall look at an entire system – from a high level,” he said. “We do a system inventory and assessment where we look at what they have and what shape it’s in. We do mapping and geographic information system and go over a management plan – it helps districts prioritize projects. When we move to level two, that’s when we get more site specific and further in detail.”
Other projects can be done through a small water project program (SWPP), he said.
The purpose of SWPP is improving watershed condition and function. A small sample of projects eligible for SWPP grant funding assistance for construction or the rehabilitation of small reservoirs, wells, windmills, irrigation works, environmental projects, etc.
Projects must meet a public benefit, and applications are due Nov. 15. In addition, 50 percent of the project cost, up to $35,000 maximum, is available in funding for SWPP, he mentioned.
“Level one and two planning studies are 100 percent grant money – there is no cost to the district. Level three construction is typically a 67 percent grant for eligible project components – the sponsor, which is the district in this case, is responsible for the remaining ineligible expenses and the 33 percent of the eligible expenses,” explained Tavelli.
Application information can be found online for WWDC program funding, he mentioned.
“I recommend calling the office with any questions – it’s a part of our job to help guide users through the application process, and it’s a lot simpler if applicants go through us – we can help the whole way,” said Tavelli.
Other funding opportunities which can apply to aging infrastructure include the Bureau of Reclamation WaterSmart program, Natural Resources Conservation Service’s programs including a Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and a Watershed Program, in addition to some nontraditional funding from non-governmental organizations.
Upcoming meetings dates include: Nov. 8, Riverton, Nov. 9, Powell, Nov. 10, Worland and Nov. 17, Torrington. For more information, visit wwdc.state.wy.us.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.