Following Tunnel Collapse, Lawmakers Consider Emergency Infrastructure Fund

Aug 26, 2019

Much of the irrigation infrastructure in the West was built in the early part of the last century. Here, workers use a ditch cleaner to build the Milner Canal in Idaho around 1927.
Credit Creative Commons

A legislative committee is brainstorming ideas for how to protect communities from emergency infrastructure failures, like the recent irrigation tunnel collapse in Goshen County that left 100,000 acres of Wyoming and Nebraska farmland without water and effecting over 700 farms.

Devil's Tower Senator Ogden Driskill said such emergencies are becoming more common because of aging infrastructure built by the federal government in a bygone era and because of worsening weather patterns.

Officials recently decided the tunnel collapse can be called weather related, making farmers eligible for crop insurance coverage.

"There's no doubt that they had…over 200 percent rainfall I believe, really large amounts of moisturem," said Driskill. "And there's been areas statewide, hillsides sliding off, such things. This is moisture that's unprecedented in Wyoming."

Driskill pointed out an example of a similar situation when a water tank slid off a hill in Sundance a few years ago. A roadside hill collapsed in his own county this summer as well. He said cities and irrigation districts can't afford to replace infrastructure that was built by the federal government long ago.

He proposed creating a self-funding account with $5-10 million set aside to help communities after such emergencies.

"It would be similar to the 911 surcharge you have on your phone. We all pay an extra 10-15 cents a month, whatever it is, and that pays for our 911 service. And this would be a surcharge on a water bill that would build an account that grew that would pay for these emergencies."

Irrigation districts could do the same, he said. Driskill suggested the state could help maintain such an account.

He said the Select Water Committee is in the beginning stages of developing the legislation and encourages public input.