On April 18, the Bureau of Reclamation announced a new designation of funds requested for the Gering-Ft. Laramie irrigation canal as emergency funds. The change came about after Nebraska Senators Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer and Representative Adrian Smith urged the Bureau to make the emergency designation. The new emergency fund designation saves the irrigation district approximately $800,000.
“This is great news for the water users in the Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District. The farmers and ranchers in this area have slogged through a season of uncertainty, wondering if there would be enough water for sugar beets, corn, dry beans, and alfalfa. With the work that is needed to get the repairs completed before the 2020 irrigation season, this is good news from the Bureau of Reclamation,” said Sasse.
The $2.3 million from the Bureau was set up as a loan. When tunnel number two collapsed in July of 2019, inspections were required of tunnels one and three, which the district and others saw as emergency repairs.
“Mark Limbaugh, our D.C. representative, our attorneys, and the district sent letters to ask for it to be designated as an emergency repair,” said Rick Preston, district manager at Gering-Ft.Laramie Irrigation District. “They (Bureau) finally agreed if it hadn’t been for tunnel number two these repairs wouldn’t have been an emergency.”
The balance of the grant will be in the form of a loan. Savings from the designation will bring down the cost per acre to the water user for the next 50 years if the district has to go into a loan.
The district is still trying to find monies to soften the cost of the loan.
“We’re also waiting on the state of Nebraska to make the $3.8 million available in the Governor’s (Pete Ricketts) budget, but that’s not happening as our senators were sent home by Covid-19,” Preston said.
When the legislature re-adjourns, Preston believes the money will be made available to the district.
“On be behalf of the landowners, we appreciate the work of our congressional delegation for the efforts to secure this funding. The 35 percent designated as a grant will be appreciated and is a relief for landowners,” said Robert Busch, landowner and Board Member of the Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District.
The Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District has been working hard since last summer to make repairs before the start of the 2020 irrigation season.