Earlier this month, Cambridge Canal in Furnas County reduced the flow and officials can’t explain what has happened

FURNAS COUNTY, Nebraska — Authorities in Nebraska are attempting to uncover who and why opened a dam on an irrigation channel one night this month, releasing 16 million gallons of water.

According to Brad Edgerton, general manager of the Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District, which operates the almost 48-mile river, the perplexing water release from the Cambridge Canal restricted the flow to around 18,000 acres of crops and endangered expensive irrigation equipment.

When Edgerton checked his computer on the evening of August 13, the canal was running at its typical pace of 150 cubic feet per second, but by the morning of August 14, the flow had been cut in half. Something had occurred at the canal’s dam around 200 miles west of Lincoln, near the town of Cambridge.

Edgerton drove there and saw that someone had pried open the two 10-foot sluice gates of the dam, releasing the valuable water into the Republican River. He thinks that around fifty acre-feet of water was lost during the approximately eight hours that the gates were open, and that the water was worth approximately $2,600 based on the $52 per acre-foot price that farmers pay.

“It was an unfortunate situation. In the scheme of things, it wasn’t a lot of water, but it was an inconvenience,” he said.

Edgerton hurried to alert farms downstream of the situation, summoned the sheriff, and contacted the Bureau of Reclamation to have extra water released from the Harry Strunk Reservoir in order to refill the canal.

Doug Brown, the sheriff of Furnas County, stated to the Lincoln Journal Star that he could only speculate as to why someone would unleash 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 stated that he believes the sheriff is investigating every claim he hears but has been unsuccessful thus far.

“I don’t believe they’re any closer to solving it,” he said Thursday.

It is unclear if any state law oversees the act of releasing canal water back into a river — or gives consequences — but Furnas County Attorney Patrick Calkins said he will try to find one if the sheriff discovers who used the adjacent hand crank wheel to open the gates.

“If we get information on who did this, I’d look at charging that person with something,” Calkins said.

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