Irrigation Canal Breach in Wyoming Floods Homes and Farms
A breach of the Interstate Canal west of Lingle, in southeast Wyoming, occurred sometime during the evening of June 30 and the morning of July 1, 2022. Rick Miller, manager of the Pathfinder Irrigation District—which this canal is a part of—said this canal delivers water to 106,000 acres of farmland in Wyoming and western Nebraska.
This canal was constructed during a 10 year period more than 100 years ago (1905-1915) and goes 95 miles from the Whalen Diversion Dam to Lake Alice and Lake Minatare Reservoirs northeast of Scottsbluff, Nebraska and also serves Lingle, Hill, and Pathfinder Irrigation Districts.
“It feeds the inland lakes in Nebraska which include Lake Alice, Lake Minatare and Lake Winter Creek. There are about 868 customer users. At the time of the break, this canal was carrying 1750 cfs (cubic feet per second),” said Miller. No one knows exactly what caused the break in the canal.
Governor Mark Gordon activated the Wyoming National Guard to help control the flood by using sandbags.
“What made our flooding a lot different from the earlier Fort Laramie/Goshen Irrigation’s tunnel collapse was that the water from our canal still had a place to go,” said Miller.
“In the tunnel collapse there was nowhere for that water to go except out. Our floodwater split; half went into the town of Lingle and the other half was still going down the canal. This allowed us to put up cement dikes to try to stop the water going into Lingle, whereas Goshen Irrigation didn’t have that option. They just had to wait until the water quit running.”
When the Pathfinder Irrigation District realized there had been a breach in the canal, the town was alerted and local officials and firefighters went knocking on doors early Friday morning urging residents to evacuate. Multiple homes, a few businesses, and several farms in the surrounding area were affected by the floodwaters.
The North Hills Baptist Church was on a higher end of town and provided food, water, and shelter for people who had to leave their homes. One farm family had all their land completely flooded, but with the help of the community they managed to get their cattle out of the flooded areas.
“If the railroad hadn’t been there, the water would have all gone to the river instead of going into the town. It would have caused some damage, but it would have stayed away from the homes. The railroad (being built up) worked like a dike, however, and forced the water into the town,” Miller said.
Crews with the Pathfinder Irrigation District and local construction companies worked to repair the canal and local volunteers worked all day filling sandbags and loading them into pickups, all-terrain vehicles, tractors and trailers to be taken to residences, businesses and other areas most at risk for immediate flooding.
Pathfinder Irrigation District employees were immediately on site working to place rip-rap in the breach to minimize flooding and keep as much water in the canal as possible. State and local agencies that responded to the crisis included the Goshen County Sheriff’s Office, the Goshen Hole Fire Department, Goshen County Emergency Management, and the Wyoming Highway Patrol; the state highway employees redirected traffic from U.S. Highway 26 where the flood waters crossed the highway.
Miller said the amazing and heartwarming part of this disaster was how people came together to try to help in any way they could. The whole community rose to the need and pitched in. “I have to brag about my employees in our irrigation district,” said Miller. “I never heard a single complaint, and I worked them to death! I was amazed at how faithful they were to the district and to the irrigators below us.”
In one of the farm fields below the canal, the water didn’t wash the dirt away, but spead thousands of rocks out over the field. “I drove by that place yesterday (Wednesday) and there were more than 50 people out there with 5-gallon buckets helping that farmer get the rocks out of his field! There were whole families, even little kids, out there trying to help,” said Miller.
This is the wonderful thing about small rural communities; everyone helps when someone has a problem. “I live in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, which is a very tiny town. I’ve always made the comment, ‘I don’t know who would actually want to live here!’ but after watching the town of Lingle come together, I realized that small communities can be awesome! Disasters always bring people together,” he said.
Some work still needs to be done, to bring the community back to normal. Piles of sand that were utilized to create temporary diversion dams are being cleaned off the town streets, along with the sandbags that lined the outside of homes and businesses. Many buildings are still filled with the mud and debris left from the floodwater. Many Lingle area residents are still helping friends and neighbors with clean-up.
By July 7 the damage was pretty well under control, however. “Some of the homes that were flooded are still being cleaned up; people are still hauling sand and other items out of them,” said Miller.
“There was a tremendous amount of dirt washed into the town, and people are still cleaning it up. For several days I was working with a road grader well into the night, but we are nearly finished with most of it,” Miller said.
“We just completed the repair in the canal last night (July 6) and hope to finish it up today. We have the broken structure built back but have about another day’s worth of work to do on it before we start the canal up again. It’s scheduled to start up again later today, to start bringing water back through it,” he said.
This canal is 95 miles long, and it takes about 3 days to get the water to the far end of it. More than 90,000 irrigated acres are still experiencing a temporary discontinuation of water service.
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