Crop insurance and the tunnel collapse: Unanswered questions remain for farmers in Goshen, Gering-Fort Laramie crop areas

Gering-Ft. Laramie-Goshen canal. Photo credit: Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation

From The University of Nebraska Lincoln< (Jessica Groskopf/Cory Walters):

As repairs continue on the tunnel that collapsed on the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal, unanswered questions remain about whether crop insurance will cover crop losses stemming from the loss of irrigation water.

Crop Insurance provides protection against “unavoidable, naturally occurring events.” Due to the complexity of the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie situation, it is unknown if crop insurance will cover crop loss.

Three tunnels are used to deliver water from the Whalen Dam on the North Platte River to the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal. The second tunnel, south of Fort Laramie, Wyo., collapsed on July 17. Water has been shut off at the Whalen Dam since the incident occurred in order to inspect and repair the tunnel. This has left 107,000 acres of cropland in Nebraska and Wyoming without irrigation water during a critical time in the growing season.

Several factors may have contributed to the tunnel collapse. According to a report by the National Weather Service in Cheyenne “precipitation has been upwards of 200-300% above normal for the past water year (1 Oct. 2018 to present).” However, the tunnel in question was built in 1917 by the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the structure. The Goshen Irrigation District and Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District were responsible for operating and maintenance of the tunnel.

Crop insurance is a federal program administered by the USDA Risk Management Agency. All crop insurance policies, regardless of the crop insurance agent, are subject to the same provisions. Thus 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.

Farmers in the affected area need to continue to manage their crop as if water will return to the canal and they will covered by their crop insurance policy. Failure to do so may negate individual crop insurance coverage. Producers must receive written permission from the insurance company to replant, abandon or destroy a crop.

This information is designed to support and help clarify existing crop insurance policy provisions and procedures. For more detailed information and options you may have, please consult a crop insurance agent.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Tunnel Collapse Cuts Off Irrigation To 100,000 Acres In Western Nebraska And Eastern Wyoming — NETNebraska.org

Gering-Ft. Laramie-Goshen canal. Photo credit: Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation

From NETNebraska.org:

The Gering-Ft. Laramie-Goshen canal ordinarily carries water from the North Platte River to irrigate more than 100,000 acres in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. But last Wednesday, part of a 102-year old concrete tunnel on the canal collapsed, blocking that water. Wednesday, an overflow crowd packed a Scottsbluff meeting room to hear an update on the situation.

Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District General Manager Rick Preston said officials are working on a temporary fix which will involve working into the tunnel, inserting steel ribs covered with metal plates and grout, hoping to clear a path to resume the flow.

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

Gering–area farmer Preston Stricker said he’s coped with water shortages before, but never a complete cutoff. “The effects? Nobody’s ever tried this, so we don’t know yet. But it could be devastating, with no rain and the heat the way it generally is at the end of July, the first part of August. Corn’s in its pollinating stage within the next week to 10 days, and a very, very critical time, so the yield drag could be tremendous,” Sticker said.

Xin Qiao, a University of Nebraska irrigation management specialist, said that if corn doesn’t get any irrigation water by mid-August, that could cut yields by 80-90 percent.

In addition to how long the outage will last, other questions include who will pay for repairs, and how much, if any of the losses will be covered by crop insurance.

From the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation:

According to a Goshen Irrigation District news release, during the early morning hours on July 17, an apparent collapse in a tunnel on the Fort Laramie Canal, about one and a half miles south of the town of Fort Laramie, caused water to back up and breach the canal bank upstream of the tunnel. The Fort Laramie Canal provides irrigation water to approximately 107,000 acres in Wyoming and Nebraska served by the Goshen and Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Districts and the Wright and Murphey Ditch Company.

Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Vice President/Goshen County Farmer Cole Coxbill says the magnitude of the tunnel collapse is devastating. “In 13 miles, the water in the canal rose by four feet in just a half hour,” he explained. “It just went from bad to worse as the severity of the washout and tunnel collapse was discovered. The crew’s quick action and response to get the canal shut down as soon as they did saved additional destruction.”

All hands are on deck to determine a plan to repair the tunnel and canal to restore service. “Tunnel experts are onsite as well as engineers, legislators, irrigation district board members and other interested parties,” Coxbill said. “Today, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon toured the damage and is in touch with and working with Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts.”

To put the scope in perspective, Coxbill explained the size of Tunnel 2; the tunnel that collapsed. “Construction started in 1916 and finished in 1917. It is 2,160 feet long; 140 foot to 180 foot below ground and it is a 14 foot by 14 foot concrete tunnel,” he explained. “The cave in blocked it off totally and backed the water up in the canal washing out a good quarter mile of the canal. All of this is about 13 miles from the diversion dam on the river and the canal’s length in Wyoming alone is 85 miles.”

According to Coxbill, a state economist gave an initial forecast guess of a $60 million direct economic impact to Wyoming and Nebraska. “That doesn’t include the turnover effect,” Coxbill explained. “That is the direct economic impact the loss of irrigation water will have on our states.”

There are approximately 52,000 acres in Wyoming impacted with the loss of irrigation water. “Farmers are all in at this point in the season,” Coxbill stated. “All our chips are on the table and now we face the outlook of no irrigation water.”

“We are hoping to have some more answers as the irrigation boards meet again tomorrow to discuss what the tunnel company found and what they think,” he said.

“The devastation and reality of no water is still setting in and on how tragic this can and will be to the farmers and the community,” Coxbill concluded.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Editorial: #Nebraska should be vigilant to protect its #SouthPlatteRiver water allocation — Omaha World-Herald

The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.

From The Omaha World-Herald editorial board:

Momentum is building in Colorado to create new reservoirs to draw more water from the South Platte River, reducing the flow into Nebraska. Nebraska officials should monitor this situation closely, now and in coming years, to make sure the water volume continues to meet the requirements under a 1923 South Platte River agreement between the two states.

Maintaining a proper flow in the Platte River — formed by the confluence of the South Platte and North Platte Rivers in western Nebraska — is crucial to our state’s agriculture, hydropower and long-term metropolitan water sources for Omaha and Lincoln.

Colorado apparently has considerable room at present to make further diversions and still remain in compliance. “In many years, more water is passing that gauging station at the state line than needs to” under the agreement, Colorado State Engineer Kevin Rein says.

A group called the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, is proposing to store 175,000 acre-feet of water in a series of reservoirs on the South Platte River, from north of Denver to the Morgan County line. The project also includes a long pipeline to pump water from the river back to the metro area to be cleaned and re-used. Graphic credit: CWCB via Aspen Journalism

The proposed reservoirs, to serve Front Range urban residents, would keep about 150,000 acre-feet of water in Colorado, the Denver Post reports. That’s about half of the estimated amount that Colorado lawmakers claim their state can legally divert on average each year under the 1923 agreement. For comparison: When full, Nebraska’s Lake McConaughy has a capacity of 1.74 million acre-feet.

A 1993 study of Nebraska water history by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln stated, “Some Nebraskans may still bemoan that the state gave away too much water to Colorado in the South Platte Compact of 1923, but it was a voluntary agreement.”

The tremendous metro growth in Colorado’s Front Range is spurring the call for new reservoirs. Urban groundwater levels are declining in the face of dramatically increased demand. Meanwhile, agricultural producers in Colorado’s South Platte River basin support reservoir creation as a way to safeguard their own groundwater from urban diversion. Officials in western Colorado are in favor, saying the South Platte water could reduce the current allocation of western Colorado water to the Front Range via tunnels. Supportive, too, are Colorado water-policy officials, who included the South Platte reservoir concept in their 2015 State Water Plan.

In short, a wide-ranging set of powerful urban and rural interests in Colorado have come together to press for more South Platte water. “We owe it to our state, to our water users and our farmers to capture as much water as we can” out of the South Platte, said Joe Frank, manager of Colorado’s Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District.

Nebraskans can take heart that strong legal protections are in place to safeguard the significant water volume the state receives via the North Platte River, a vital irrigation source. The river supplies Lake McConaughy, for example, with its wide-ranging irrigation and groundwater recharge role for more than half a million acres in the Platte River valley, plus hydropower generation and recreation.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decree in 1945 setting out a legal framework for interstate water allocation along the North Platte. In 2001, Nebraska and Wyoming reached a settlement on sharing North Platte water after 15 years of legal wrangling. The agreement essentially froze Wyoming’s water use at the 2001 level and stipulated that groundwater hydrologically connected to the North Platte be included. The settlement created a committee — of federal, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado officials — to work out future disagreements.

“In contrast to the meager and seasonal administrative execution of provisions contained in the South Platte Compact,” a 2006 UNL analysis stated, “administrative actions in the North Platte River watershed are extensive and occur year-round.”

Whooping crane standing in shallow water. Credit: Randolph Femmer, USGS (public domain)

Nebraska may have future legal leverage regarding the South Platte if any Colorado diversions raise environmental concerns, such as negative effects on protected animal species. Two examples: sandhill cranes and whooping cranes, which congregate in great numbers annually in central Nebraska.

The proposed South Platte reservoirs are “one of those rare solutions that really is good for both rural Colorado and folks who live in the Denver metro area,” a Colorado state senator stated. Evidently so, but on this side of the border, Nebraskans need to remain watchful and assertive to ensure our state’s rights are recognized and safeguarded to the full extent of applicable law.

Platte River photo credit US Bureau of Reclamation.

#Wyoming Governor Gordon, state agencies mobilizing resources in wake of irrigation tunnel collapse

Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal. This camera looks over a north flowing canal that provides irrigation water to surrounding fields. Agriculture in this part of the state is made possible in part by irrigation canals like this. Scotts Bluff National Monument is visible on the horizon. Photo credit: Platte Basin Time Lapse

Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office:

Governor Mark Gordon, members of the executive branch, and representatives from multiple state agencies are mobilizing in an effort to provide assistance to farmers affected by a catastrophic irrigation tunnel collapse in Goshen County.

The Governor signed an Executive Order for a Declaration of Emergency today, allowing him to deploy state resources to Goshen County as needed. The collapse occurred early in the morning of July 17 along the Fort Laramie-Gering irrigation canal west of Lingle and caused a large breach of the canal wall. The disaster inundated farmland near the breach and has left more than 100,000 acres of cropland in Wyoming and Nebraska without water during a critical period for growers. Goshen County Commissioners issued a Local Disaster Declaration earlier today.

“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,” Governor Mark Gordon said. “We are working with an understanding of the urgency of the situation, along with a need to proceed carefully. Wyoming is united in its effort to find the right way to help the Goshen Irrigation District get up and running.”

After visiting the site on Friday, the Governor and members of the executive branch met Monday morning to analyze ways to provide state support to Goshen County and the Goshen Irrigation District. The Governor’s office is assembling resources to engage federal partners and is working with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security and the State Engineer’s Office to explore potential options for resources and assistance.

State officials and representatives from Governor Gordon’s office will attend a stakeholder’s meeting organized by the Goshen Irrigation District scheduled for 2 pm Wednesday, July 24, at the Eastern Wyoming College auditorium. The meeting is open to the public and will include a discussion of the collapse and a possible timeline for repairs to the tunnel and ditch.

From the Goshen County Commissioners via The Torrington Telegram:

The Goshen County Board of Commissioners has officially declared the collapse of an irrigation tunnel along the Fort Laramie-Gering Irrigation Canal as a local disaster.

In a declaration issued Monday morning, July 22, the county stated that “extensive damage was caused to private property and the loss of irrigation water will result in an extensive loss of agricultural crops to the farmers of Goshen County within the disaster area.”

The declaration, signed by Chairman Wally Wolski, vowed to seek emergency funds from any and all sources.

“All locally available public and private resources available to mitigate and alleviate the effects of this disaster have been insufficient to meet the needs of the situation,” the declaration said. “The Chairman of the Goshen County Board of Commissioners has declared a State of Emergency on behalf of Goshen County, and will execute for and on behalf of Goshen County Commission the expenditure of emergency funds from all available sources, the invoking of mutual aid agreements, and the requesting of assistance from the State of Wyoming.”

The Goshen Irrigation District has organized a stakeholder’s meeting to discuss the Fort-Laramie Gering irrigation tunnel collapse, repairing the tunnel and the ditch, and the timeframe of the repairs. The meeting will be held Wednesday, July 24, 2 p.m. at the Eastern Wyoming College auditorium.

The GID issued a press release on Friday, July 19, to ask people to stay away from the collapse to allow the GID and various contractors space to make the necessary repairs. The collapse occurred in a remote section of the canal, with only a one-lane road to get in or out of the site.

“Goshen Irrigation District and Gering-Fort Laramie District are asking for all patrons to please observe all road closure signs near the tunnel and canal breach,” the release said. “There will be large equipment and contractors in and out of that site every day of the week and for extended hours. Please, for your safety, do not impede the work that needs to be done.”

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Extension Needed for Protection of Interior Least Tern, Piping Plover, and Whooping Crane — @AudubonRockies

Least Tern. Photo credit Doug German via Audubon.

From Audubon Rockies (Daly Edmunds):

The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP) is a multi-state effort that began in 1997, when the governors of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska joined with the U.S. Secretary of Interior to sign the “Cooperative Agreement for Platte River Research and Other Efforts Relating to Endangered Species Habitat along the Central Platte River, Nebraska.”

Based on the novel idea that a collaborative approach would prevent years of courtroom battles over limited water supplies and individual river species, the PRRIP works to accommodate the habitat needs of these threatened and endangered bird species by increasing stream flows in the central Platte River during relevant time periods. While these species require habitat in central Nebraska for survival, their habitat is created and maintained through a dynamic river system that begins with water from Colorado and Wyoming. The program also enhances, restores and protects habitat, and does so in a manner to accommodate new water-related activities. This is a good program but due to expire this year.

Wyoming Senator Barrasso (R) and Colorado Representative Neguse (D) each took leadership positions on this issue, sponsoring complementary bills in the Senate (S.990) and House (H.R. 3237), that propose to extend the program. Audubon Rockies and Audubon Nebraska thanked the entire Colorado Congressional Delegation for their unanimous, bipartisan support for these bills. Our offices also thanked Wyoming’s Senator Enzi for supporting the Senate bill, and Representative Cheney recently joined other western co-sponsors of the House bill. Additionally, all Colorado and Wyoming Audubon chapters sent letters thanking their respective congressional delegations for their unanimous, bipartisan of a strong stewardship program.

Meanwhile click here to enjoy the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards winners.

Birds make fascinating subjects, as the winners and honorable mentions of this year’s contest, our 10th, make clear. They’re at once beautiful and resilient, complex and comical. It’s no wonder why we love them so.

The images that won the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards, presented in association with Nature’s Best Photography, are as impressive as ever, but attentive readers might notice a few more images than usual. That’s because we’ve added two awards. The Plants for Birds category is inspired by Audubon’s Plants for Birds program, supported by Coleman and Susan Burke, which provides resources for choosing and finding plants native to zip codes in the United States. This category poses a new challenge to photographers: Don’t just capture an incredible moment—make sure it also features a bird and plant native to the location in which the photo was taken, in order to highlight the critical role native habitat plays in supporting bird life. And in the spirit of Kevin Fisher, Audubon’s longtime creative director who recently retired, the Fisher Prize recognizes a creative approach to photographing birds that blends originality with technical expertise. It honors a photograph selected from all of the submissions that pushes the bounds of traditional bird photography.

We want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all 2,253 entrants, hailing from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and 10 Canadian provinces and territories. Your dedication to appreciating, celebrating, and sharing the wonder of birds and the landscapes they inhabit inspires us now and throughout the year.

#Runoff news: Northern #Colorado rivers have likely peaked for the season

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The Poudre and Big Thompson rivers are gushing as a wave of warm weather sends mountain snowmelt rushing toward Northern Colorado, but regional officials say flows should taper this week and don’t expect major flooding.

The Poudre flowed about 4.3 feet high at the Lincoln Street gauge Tuesday afternoon. Its volume of 956 cubic feet per second was nearly three times the median for this time of year…

A blast of summer heat will bring Fort Collins a string of days with highs above 90 degrees, starting Wednesday and holding on through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Hodges said flood risk isn’t a big concern, though, because so much of the mountain snowpack that feeds the Big Thompson and Poudre rivers has already melted…

Remaining snowpack is plummeting in both the North Platte and South Platte river basins, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service…

The onset of summer also means people will divert more water from the Poudre, which loses over 60% of its water before it even gets to Fort Collins…

The Big Thompson and Poudre rivers have likely already reached their peaks, Hodges said. The Big Thompson reached about 5.8 feet — action stage for flooding is 6.5 — above the canyon mouth on Thursday, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources…

The Poudre reached about 5.7 feet at the canyon mouth Friday. Action stage is 6.5 feet. It peaked at about 5.5 feet through town on Friday, well below the action stage of 9 feet.

From OutThereColorado.com (Spencer McKee):

The warmer temperatures in Colorado’s mountains are expected to melt quite a bit of snowpack. Be warned that Colorado’s rivers and waterways will be swollen with fast moving and powerful water, making them very dangerous. Three people have died in three separate incidents over the past week in Colorado rivers.

#Climate variability normal, but extent of warming during spring #runoff is not — The Mountain Town News @MountainTownNew @ActOnClimate

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Warming temperatures but especially so during spring months

In Pennsylvania, the groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil saw no shadow this year. That is supposed to portend an early spring.

In the Rocky Mountains, early springs have been coming no matter what. This was a cold winter in many places, but on average the climate has been warming for several decades. It’s sure to get much warmer yet.

A case in point is Colorado’s North Park, headwaters of the North Platte River but a short distance from the headwaters of the Colorado River and also the Steamboat ski area.

There, according to Dr. J.J. Shinker, an associate professor from the University of Wyoming, the temperature overall has increased 1.44 degrees Celsius (2.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1909.

The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

But warming during the spring months of March, April, and May has been disproportionate, rising almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2.21 degrees C) on average since 1909.

“That’s a lot of warming in a short period of time,” she told members of the Colorado Water Congress at a recent conference. She also pointed out that warming at high elevations has been disproportionately greater than the global average.

(But Jeff Lukas of Western Water Assessment, the lead author of “Climate Change in Colorado,” the 2014 synthesis report sponsored by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, points out that “there is no robust and consistent evidence that higher-elevation regions in Colorado are warming at a different rate than lower-elevation regions.”

But of disproportionate warming during spring, there is no dissent. And that produces earlier runoff in the North Platte and other rivers in Colorado. On average, runoff occurs five days earlier for every degree Celsius in warming.

This matters to water managers, who try to ensure the irrigation ditches still have enough water come August and September. It also matters to mountain resorts as warming springs shrink the backend of ski season.

But everybody should be concerned for two more reasons, says Shinker. First, the worst droughts we’ve seen, the worst on record since Eurosettlement about 150 years ago, don’t come close in depth and intensity to those of the past. Forest fires of the past were also giant affairs.

This was part of natural variability. But now there is the overlay of what might be called unnatural variability, this overlay caused by human forcing of the climate.

“The warming that we are seeing is occurring at a rate that is outside the range of natural variability,” Shinker said in an interview after her talk to Colorado water managers. “And it’s occurring as a result of the greenhouse gases that result from human activity.”

Paleoclimatologists can tell much about shifting climates of the past 12,000 years by studying high mountain lakes. Consider Emerald Lake, which is in Colorado’s Sawatch Range, near the trailheads to the state’s two highest mountains, Elbert and Massive. Scientists studying lake sediments and other clues have documented shorelines that a millennium ago were much lower. The droughts then lasted for decades, even hundreds of years, what are called megadroughts.

Lake of the Woods, which is located in Wyoming along the Continental Divide south of Jackson Hole, also offers evidence deciphered by scientists of a megadrought 5,200 years ago.

The point, said Shinker, is that natural variability has always occurred in the interior West. So, too have, extreme events, such as the wildfires that accompanied a megadrought in North Park about 2,000 years ago.

In the Colorado River Basin, scientists have reached much the same conclusion. Undeniably, there have been several hard drought years since 2000. But Brad Udall of Colorado State University and other scientists have concluded that it’s not a drought as conventionally understood. Rather, rising temperatures have begun causing more evaporation and transpiration, resulting in less water getting downstream.

That doesn’t mean conventional climatic forces don’t have swagger. From her post in Wyoming, Shinker studies what causes natural climatic variability in the interior West, such as movement of the polar jet stream north and south. But now there’s an overlay to those natural climatic variations, one created by human activities.