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Nebraska, Wyoming issue emergency declarations as collapsed irrigation tunnel threatens farms

Darryl Coote

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Water was shut off to 100,00 acres of farmland in Nebraska and Wyoming after an irrigation tunnel collapsed last week. Photo courtesy of Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon/Facebook


July 26 (UPI) -- The governors of Nebraska and Wyoming issued emergency declarations following the collapse of an irrigation tunnel that transports water to 100,000 acres of cropland in both states.

The 102-year-old concrete tunnel collapsedearly July 17 along the Fort Laramie-Gering irrigation canal in Wyoming, causing the tunnel to back up, breaching one of its walls and flooding nearby farmland. The water was then shut off, stopping delivery to tens of thousands of acres during a heatwave that threatens to leave crops dry and hurt the livelihoods of local farmers.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts issued his state's emergency orderThursday after Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordonissuedhis on Monday,allowing officials to deploy state resources to Goshen County, where the tunnel collapse occurred.

Wyoming's Goshen County also issued a Local Disaster Declaration on Monday.

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"This is a serious emergency and we recognize addressing an issue of this magnitude will take coordination, especially because it affects so many Wyoming and Nebraska farmers," Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said. "We are working with an understanding of the urgency of the situation along with a need to proceed carefully."

Rick Preston, Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District general manager, told an overflow crowd Wednesday that they were working a temporary solution by clearing a path in the canal, Net Nebraskareported.

"This is a long shot," he said. "We don't even know what's in there. In a perfect situation, you're looking at 21 days before we get water back into the system."

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Dr. Xin Qiao, water and irrigation management specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension office, said that this drought could cost much more than the $2 million bill for the temporary repair, The Torrington Telegramreported.

He said corn farmers will lose more of their crops each day they don't receive water, and could lose between 80 percent and 90 percent of their yield if they don't have water within the next two weeks.

"We're in the most critical state for corn," he said. "We use a lot of water every week. Our soil is not that good."