Update on North Platte River Valley Canal Irrigation System

Water is flowing again at the tunnel entrance on the Gering-Fort Laramie and Goshen Irrigation Canal
The Goshen/Gering-Ft Laramie irrigation canal is again supplying water to growers in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming. (Photo by Gary Stone)

Update on North Platte River Valley Canal Irrigation System

Irrigation has resumed for growers along the Goshen/Gering-Ft Laramie irrigation canal, a diversion of the North Platte River from the Whalen Diversion Dam. While growers have welcomed the water's return after canal damage forced a shutoff from July 17 to August 28, it likely came too late for dry edible bean fields, but just in time to help finish out the corn. Yields of sugar beets and hay will likely benefit.

Extension Educator John Thomas shares a video of work and the return of water to the irrigation canal.

If you’ve been following this story and would like to see more of the canal irrigation and tunnel system, cut and paste these GIS locations into Google Earth.

Whalen Dam Diversion:  42.247947°, -104.629175°
Goshen / Gering-Ft Laramie Canal Headwaters:  42.247599°, -104.629632°
Pathfinder Canal Headwaters:  42.247926°, -104.628554°
Tunnel No. 1 Entrance:  42.220984°, -104.565794°
                        Exit: 42.213569°, -104.565990°
Tunnel No. 2 Entrance:  42.188976°, -104.500286°
                         Exit:  42.183287°, -104.498447°
Tunnel No. 3 Entrance:  41.832989°, -103.793531°
                         Exit:  41.817961°, -103.780679°

On Friday representatives of local, state, and federal governments, university extension in Wyoming and Nebraska, and social service agencies joined in a call to hear the latest situation updates. On the call, Wyoming and Nebraska irrigation board representatives said, that short of a natural disaster, they expect irrigation water to be available in the canal for the 2020 season, although it might not be available at 100% of what growers received before the July 17 tunnel collapse.

The current volume of water in the canal is approximately 1250 cfs (560,250 gallons per minute). Gering – Ft Laramie Irrigation District growers are taking 565 cfs (253,572 gallons per minute) and Goshen Irrigation District growers are taking 304 cfs (136,435 gallons per minute). That leaves a total of 381 cfs (170,993 gallons per minute) or 30% loss to the canal system as infiltration/seepage. This is much more loss to the system than what was anticipated.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the affected irrigation districts have met and agreed to extend the irrigation season into late September or possibly early October. They are also working together to have a proposal in place for permanent repairs and upgrades for the three tunnels on the joint irrigation canal.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has evaluated all three tunnels on the canal and is in the process of identifying permanent repairs/upgrade options for these structures. Once that has been completed, they will forward their top findings to the two irrigation districts for review. The irrigation districts will then have to decide what path they wish to take for permanent repairs. Funding for the permanent repairs is still being explored by both states and federal agencies.

More Information

Nebraska Extension and the University of Wyoming Extension are working together to share information and help growers in both states understand their options during this severe situation. A joint web page has been created at https://go.unl.edu/canal to provide information to stakeholders.

For more information on the North Platte River and the irrigation projects in Nebraska and Wyoming, visit the slideshare presentation on the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center website.

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