Canal Operation and Control Development

Project ID: 9403
Principal Investigator: Robert Einhellig
Research Topic: Agriculture Water Supplies
Funded Fiscal Years: 2005
Keywords: None

Research Question

As technology and the techniques and tools available to manage water delivery systems continue to evolve, how can modern methods for effective water management and control of canal and water delivery systems be demonstrated and transferred into practice?

Need and Benefit

The Bureau of Reclamation is the largest wholesaler of water in the country. In this role, Reclamation routinely deals with the conflicts and challenges that arise from an increasing demand for a finite and limited water resource. Since the opportunities for increasing the supply of water are limited, a large component of dealing with the conflicting demands for this resource involve adoption and implementation of better management practices.

The largest traditional user of western water supplies is agriculture, with Reclamation providing irrigation water to one out of five western farmers for 10 million acres of crop production. This traditional use of water is facing increased demand and competition from municipal, industrial, and environmental considerations. In order to better balance the competing demands for water, it is becoming imperative that the water delivery and canal systems which convey agricultural water in the west operate more efficiently. Many of these canal and delivery systems were developed 60 to 120 years ago and are operated with technologies and methodologies which reflect the period of their construction. With the evolution of both technology and our understanding of canal hydraulics, it has become clear that there are significant efficiencies and water savings which can be gained by modernizing canal operations and control, and the underlying technologies which support those activities.

Of the many challenges which are faced in the process of modernizing canal and water delivery systems, one of the most significant is the process of transferring information and technology from theory to practice. People who work with canal systems are faced daily with practical impediments to changing or modernizing canal operations. These impediments can range from financial constraints to institutional or social constraints (as in "that's the way we have always done things"). Not the least of these impediments is a lack of access to good, reliable information in a usable and digestible form. When presented with such information in a context that is both understandable and credible, most water delivery personnel embrace change because they see the potential to not only increase the efficiency of their systems but also to simplify the workload of their staff.

The Canal Model, located in Reclamation's Water Resources Research Laboratory (WRRL) represents a unique and powerful facility for accomplishing the goal of testing, demonstrating and disseminating the latest information regarding canal operation methodologies and technologies to end-users who can implement these techniques in actual canal system operations. Unlike computer models or technical reports, the "hands-on" nature of the canal model enhances the ability of not only researchers, but also district- and project-oriented personnel to test and evaluate a variety of operations-related techniques and tools. The five canal reaches in the model include a variety of gate structures, turnouts, and flow measurement devices that allow for a realistic evaluation of control equipment and methodologies, in a convenient laboratory environment.

To effectively utilize the Canal Model to demonstrate and deploy operations technologies to project and district personnel requires that the model and researchers who use it employ the most up-to-date techniques and technologies available. Recent advances in technology, within the last three years, offer a unique opportunity to implement economical and understandable canal control. This requires an investment in both facility infrastructure and curriculum research and development with a goal of developing a demonstration environment and process that more closely mirrors the range of currently available techniques. This will result in the direct transfer of modern canal control methods to canal operations personnel, where they are most useful and relevant.

Contributing Partners


Last Updated: June 29, 2015