Yonts Water Conference held in Gering


GERING – The University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center hosted the Yonts Water Conference April 9 for farmers, ranchers and other agriculturists at the Gering Civic Center. 

Attendees were welcomed by University of Nebraska Extension Educator for Agricultural Economics Jessica Groskopf. Groskopf said this year’s conference had been shortened to due to impacts from COVID-19, but she hoped to have a full conference in 2022.

Don Lease of the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project explained what the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project is and provided information for those needing help recovering from the previous year’s events. 

Lease said he was an outreach worker with the project and was working to help make local people aware of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s actions to deal with the negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. He explained how the organization had worked to establish food banks and provide government assistance to those in need.

“Stress is a hard thing to manage sometimes,” Lease said. “There are resources available for stress level management; financial or otherwise.”

According to a handout provided by the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project, “we provide community-based support and education to help Nebraskans cope during this stressful time…we provide emotional support, offer information/education on stress and coping, connect people to resources and to each other, give voice to individual’s stories, disaster reactions and strengths and encourage community members to taken an active role in their own recovery.”

Those feeling stressed or worried about COVID-19, or who wish to seek assistance, can call the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline
at 1-800-464-0258.

After Lease’s presentation, Carlie Ronca and Mike Follum of the Wyoming Area Office for the Bureau of Reclamation spoke about some of the programs being organized by their office. 

Currently, the Bureau of Reclamation is working on an organized safety dam program, power reviews to make corrections, extra maintenance to prevent further issues and major rehabilitation projects at dams and power plants. 

According to Follum and Ronca, the Bureau of Reclamation releases approximately 1.17 million acre-feet of water annually through the North Platte system for deliveries. There are 41 long-term irrigation contracts, four long term major industrial contracts and 15 temporary water service contracts throughout the system.

They noted the system produces 680 gigawatt-hours of hydroelectricity, enough power to run 65,000 households for one year.

Ronca and Follum said the Bureau of Reclamation is not expecting any water supply shortages this year, but they are “cautiously optimistic.” They pointed out how snow and rains had dramatically helped with the snowpack conditions, but the three-month outlook shows a high probability of higher temperatures and drier conditions across the area. 

Follum showed the crowd how they had lowered the Alcova Reservoir by 40 feet to facilitate spillway repairs. He said the repairs are complete and the reservoir should be up to full capacity this summer.

He also showed a presentation on the progress being made on the Guernsey Powerplant Roller Mounted Intake Gate Refurbishment project. He noted the project was 100% power funded and irrigators would not be billed for the repairs. 

Follum said the project began in August 2020 and would be completed in March 2022. As part of the project, the inflows in Guernsey will be passed for the Winter of 2021-2022 to facilitate moving forward on the project. 

Follum summarized his presentation, saying they were expecting an adequate water supply, but would be watching the situation diligently as conditions could change in very short order, whether good or bad.

Nebraska State Climatologist Martha Shulski of the University of Nebraska provided a climatological forecast for the upcoming year.

Shulski said Nebraska’s drought had experienced one to three class degradations over the past year. She noted, during the course of September through November of 2020, the region had experienced a mostly warm and arid fall.

During the three-month period, September through November 2020, Nebraska experienced its ninth lowest precipitation for the fall period, Colorado experienced its ninth lowest precipitation for the fall period and Wyoming experienced its 23rd lowest precipitation for the fall period.

She said western Nebraska was experiencing extreme drought conditions in the fall and winter with a late extreme cold occurring in February. Then, in December, January and February, there was a moderate amount of precipitation in most of western Nebraska, making for the second wettest March in Nebraska at four inches of precipitation. 

Shulski said southeastern Wyoming and northwestern Colorado had also experienced twice the normal precipitation in March. 

Moving into April, Shulski said to expect light to moderate precipitation across Nebraska and Wyoming as a cool and dry pattern begins to move in for mid-April. 

The summer outlook shows a warm and dry signal for Nebraska and the plains. Shulski said those in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming will likely see a few days with cooler temperatures and precipitation, but overall, the summer will be warmer and drier.

To summarize, Shulski said not to expect drought conditions to improve in Nebraska and Wyoming for this year.

Bradley Anderson of Anderson Consulting Engineers, Inc., provided an update on the work being done to the Goshen – Gering/Fort Laramie drainage tunnels.

Anderson said the tunnels were originally designed for 1,450 cubic feet per second flows with tunnel one measuring in at 2,700 feet and tunnel two measuring in at 2,150 feet. 

He said they had placed steel ribs inside the tunnel which were used to exert pressure outward to help sustain the existing structure. Additionally, they intended to complete a contact and backfill grouting program and permeation test grouting program. After installing the steel ribs, the conveyance capacity of the tunnels was limited to 1,200 cubic feet per second, which is 83% of the original design capacity.

Anderson and his team plan to place thin 14-gauge steel liners on the ribs to overcome the obstruction, reduce friction losses and increase the conveyance throughout the tunnel, bringing the conveyance to between 1,300 and 1,500 cubic feet per second. 

Currently, Anderson said a mitigation plan was created in December 2020 and relies on the geological and structural conditions at each tunnel. He also noted the mitigation plan was submitted to the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) for funding in January of 2021. 

Anderson said they plan to try to get grants through the federal government to help cover the costs of the project but suspects it will take grants and loans to cover the total cost of the project. 

The final portion of the event were two panel forums who provided their insight and experience with the collapse of the irrigation tunnel the previous year and a panel who answered farmers questions about water management for this year’s growing season.

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