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Irrigation Canal Tunnel Collapse - Courtesy Photos

Drone photo taken July 20 shows the area surrounding the collapsed irrigation canal tunnel in Fort Laramie.

We tend not to think about bridges, roads and pipelines until there is a problem with them.

We take it for granted that the highways we drive on will always be there, that the spans we cross won’t fall down due to age or use.

That’s not surprising. Maintaining and replacing aging infrastructure is hardly the most interesting political topic.

It’s often drowned out by larger controversies that, ironically, have less impact on our day-to-day lives.

And yet, when infrastructure fails, it can cause big problems and costly hardship. Consider the irrigation tunnel collapse in Goshen County that took place last month. The blocked tunnel, which is less than two miles from Fort Laramie, caused flooding and blocked water from reaching farmland.

It’s part of an irrigation system that spans roughly 130 miles in Wyoming and Nebraska, one that feeds more than 100,000 acres of crops. So when it failed, the impact was profound and widespread.

Researchers in the two states estimate the collapse will cause roughly $89 million in economic losses.

More than 700 farmers are directly affected. But the impact is much greater considering all of the businesses that provide goods and services to those farmers.

The tunnel, which was more than 100 years old, had been inspected yearly.

But the incident and its painful aftermath still highlight the importance of routine examinations and maintenance to ensure that our infrastructure remains safe and intact.

Yes, that work costs money.

And there is always the possibility that a robust inspection system will grow the size of government.

But those expenses pales in comparison to the losses that can come when a bridge fails or a highway cracks in a critical spot.

The residents of Goshen County will feel the impacts of the collapse long after the tunnel is fixed and water if flowing again.

And with Wyoming’s unforgiving weather and brutal winter, the need to keep our infrastructure in good condition is all the more important.

Ice, snow and wind can be taxing on our structures, and routine inspections and maintenance are a good way to reduce the likelihood of a major failure.

In the past week, senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi and Rep. Liz Cheney advocated for the farmers affected by the tunnel’s collapse to receive crop insurance monies.

In the upcoming legislative session, state lawmakers should consider ways they too can help the people of southeastern Wyoming get back on their feet as well as consider what might be done to avoid similar risks around the Cowboy state.

The loss of so many acres of crops is devastating for the region. The tunnel’s collapse is more than a reminder that infrastructure might not be exciting, but it’s certainly essential.

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