Considering the weather in some parts of the U.S., this year is filled with extreme opposites. It started with blizzards and floods, and now many of farmlands in Wyoming and Nebraska are facing a severe lack of water. The cracking dirt, beans turning yellow, and dehydrated corn are just some of the consequences.
This month, a hundred-year-old irrigation tunnel collapsed. This tunnel carries water from Wyoming to Nebraska for over 100 miles. The cause of the breakdown is still unclear, yet the impact on the countryside was immediate.
It is a strong blow for large areas covered with crops. Hundreds of farmers already struggling with low prices of grain now are left without water at the crucial phase of the growing cycle.
Kendall Busch, a farmer growing corn, beans, and sugar beets from Mitchell Nebraska, says that this lack of water is already robbing farmers of their yearly salary.
Now, over most of the Great Plains problems started even before irrigation canal collapsed. First, there was chaos caused by trade wars in the grain markets. Then came the flood that left cornfields covered with ice chunks. The exceptionally wet spring postponed planting for extensive periods. And, when it finally started to seem like conditions are stabilizing, the irrigation tunnel was cracked open stopping the water flow.
Not all of the mentioned issues struck all of the farmers, but only a few of them will stay unharmed. Dave Kaufman, whose farm estate outside of Gering in Nebraska went dry, had to cancel the purchase of Ford F-150 truck in order to save money.
Since summer rains are rare in eastern Wyoming and Nebraska Panhandle hills, farmers there depend on water diverted from rivers through the network of irrigation tunnels. That canal system had cultivated crops with water drained from the North Platte River for generations.
On the 17th of July, that changed. That morning, a farmer who grows hay and corn near Fort Laramie in Wyoming, Buz Oliver, was checking crops when he discovered that a cornfield nearby was covered in water. He went on top of the hill near his property to inspect. There he found that the tunnel which carried the water had collapsed overnight, and this left no room for water to advance. Finally, it found its way out and burst with such force that it snapped trees on its way into pieces and ripped the fence from the ground. The cows that had no time to escape were stranded on small parts of their pasture.
Farmers are trained for contingencies, but no one saw this debacle. The irrigation system was regularly maintained and was functioning with a few significant problems. The officials in both Nebraska and Wyoming supervise the management of this canal network. The reason for collapsing still isn’t identified. However, this event is raising concerns about the reliance of American dealership on deteriorating infrastructure. And, around 50 million dollars in crops in Nebraska alone is at stake.a