In Nebraska, Canal Water Mysteriously Goes Missing

Someone opened a dam on an irrigation channel one night this month
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 26, 2022 1:09 PM CDT
In Nebraska, Canal Water Mysteriously Goes Missing
Cambridge Canal in south-central Nebraska. It's a mystery why someone released 16 million gallons of water out of the canal one night earlier this month.   (Bradley Edgerton via AP)

Authorities in Nebraska are trying to determine who released 16 million gallons of water by opening a dam on an irrigation channel one night this month—and why. The puzzling water release from the Cambridge Canal reduced the flow to some 18,000 acres of crops and jeopardized expensive irrigation equipment, according to Brad Edgerton, the general manager of the Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District that runs the nearly 48-mile-long waterway.

The canal was flowing at its normal rate of 150 cubic feet per second when Edgerton checked on his computer on the night of Aug. 13, reports the AP. But by the following morning the flow had been cut in half. Something had happened at the canal's dam near the town of Cambridge, about 200 miles west of Lincoln. Edgerton drove there and discovered that someone had wrenched open the dam’s two 10-foot sluice gates using a hand crank wheel from where it hung nearby, sending the water down the Republican River.

He estimates that about 50-acre-feet of water was lost during the roughly eight hours the gates were open, and that the water was worth around $2,600 based on the $52-per-acre-foot price that farmers pay. “In the scheme of things, it wasn’t a lot of water, but it was an inconvenience,” he said. Edgerton scrambled to notify farmers downstream about the problem, called the sheriff, and contacted the Bureau of Reclamation to get more water released from the Harry Strunk Reservoir to replenish the canal.

Furnas County Sheriff Doug Brown told the Lincoln Journal Star that he could only guess why someone would release the water. "There are a lot of different scenarios and theories," he said. "But there is no evidence to lean one way or another, so all theories are still viable." Edgerton said he thinks the sheriff is following up on every rumor he hears but so far is stumped. "I don’t believe they’re any closer to solving it," he said.

(Read more mystery stories.)

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