OMAHA — More than 100,000 acres of farmland in Nebraska and Wyoming remain dry after an irrigation tunnel collapsed last month, and it's not clear when the tunnel will resume handling water.
Officials have been working to repair the tunnel that's 100 feet below ground since it collapsed July 17, but they still are not sure how extensive the damage is. Rick Preston, with the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District, said Monday that workers were still removing dirt and shoring up the tunnel.
If the collapse is confined to the roof, it may be repairable this year. If the walls also collapsed, repairs will take longer.
"By the end of this week, we'll have a firm idea of what is going on," Preston said Monday at a public meeting.
The 14-foot-wide tunnel is part of a system that delivers water to farmers in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. The water comes from the Whelan Diversion Dam on the North Platte River.
Officials believe the collapse may have been caused by unusually heavy spring rains and snowfall that saturated the soil above it, placing extra weight on the tunnel.
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The arid region served by the irrigation system is dominated by farms that rely on the water to grow corn, soybeans, sugar beets and alfalfa. Without the irrigation water, farmers may not harvest much of a crop this year.
"I don't see any hope today," farmer Jerry Mackie said after attending the meeting on the collapse.
Mackie said he doesn't expect the corn and soybeans growing on his land will produce much because little rain falls in the area this time of year. And insurers haven't yet determined whether the collapse was an unavoidable act of nature, which would mean crop insurance would cover it.
Mackie said the lost crops will hurt the entire valley, because farmers will have less money to spend.
"There's going to have to be some sort of help," Mackie said.
The collapse prompted governors from both states to declare an emergency, which freed up state resources to help local officials.