Water Project Automation

collage of water project photos

The Bureau of Reclamation's Provo Area Office is a leader in the development of computerized canal and reservoir monitoring and control technologies. Low-cost, solar-powered automation is revolutionizing the management of water projects throughout the Intermountain West. Where automation systems are now in operation, water managers have improved their ability to closely monitor and better control canal flows and reservoir releases largely from locations. Automation technology provides water managers:

  • Instant control over canal flows
  • Accurate timing of water deliveries
  • Low-cost retrofits
  • Easy installation and maintenance
  • Expandable, user-friendly systems
  • Internet-based displays
  • Camera surveillance and alarms


Irrigation System Evaluation Team

The Provo Area Office water project automation team, working in conjunction with other Reclamation offices, will provide a water system evaluation, and inspection of existing irrigation facilities (ie. reservoir outlet works, diversion dams, check structures and major laterals, pumping plants) and make recommendations for the improvement of water measurement, enhancing system efficiency, retrofitting automation equipment, and selecting real-time monitoring and control equipment and software. The team's recommendations can provide valuable input for water conservation plans. Team members have the testing and documenting equipment to provide immediate troubleshooting assistance, as well as longer-term planning. They will provide an integrated approach to low-cost, enhanced water management. The team is available to make an evaluation upon request.

Design and Installation of Demonstration Sites

The Provo Area Office water project automation team can assist with the design and installation of low-cost automation demonstration sites, including those which involve retrofitting control equipment onto existing structures. Such sites can demonstrate the usefulness of automation as a cost-effective water management tool and provide an important starting point for a larger-scale system. The team has extensive experience in the design and installation of solar-powered retrofits. A typical retrofit can involve automating a diversion structure. If not already in place, gate actuators (either DC or AC) can be installed. A datalogger/controller, telemetry equipment, and sensors can be added. Software, including alarms, is then written to meet the needs of the water user. The gate system can be operated to:

  • Control the upstream pond elevation
  • Move the gate(s) remotely (manual remote control)
  • Adjust automatically to maintain a target flow (automatic remote control)

Demonstration sites can sometimes be partially funded through Reclamation programs including the Field Services Program (Water Conservation) and WaterSMART.

Real-Time Monitoring and Control Information Via the Internet

Displaying all real-time hydrologic and weather information on a single website encourages comprehensive river basin management. Real-time monitoring and control systems generate a great deal of very useful information that can be easily shared over the Internet. Several such sites have already been developed including:

These sites have all become important tools in the operation of their respective river basins.

River Basin Geoengineering

Heavily instrumenting river basins makes possible further research and development of geoengineering tools to improve river basin management. Potential tools for weather modification include precipitation enhancement (cloudseeding for both snowpack augmentation and temperature modification), CO2 removal, and temperature modification through alteration of the basin's albedo.


Reclamation has developed several prototypes which facilitate the installation of low-cost automation projects.

Prototype 1

Prototype 1 - Water Level Sensor

This device uses a float-and-pulley system that is geared to a potentiometer to measure water level. It is designed for use in a stilling well. It can be a useful sensor for a low-cost flow-monitoring station.

Prototype 2 - Gate Position Sensor (With Limit Switches)

Prototype 2

This device uses an enclosure over the gate stem to house a potentiometer (to measure gate position) and limit switches. It is designed for a gate system where the stem moves up and down in tandem with the gate.

Sevier Valley/Piute Canal - typical installation of Prototype 2

Because the device is visually prominent, it may not be appropriate for facilities that are susceptible to vandalism. It may not be useful for a system with a webcam, because the enclosure covers the gate stem (a useful visual monitoring point). This device can be a useful sensor for a low-cost gate actuator.

Prototype 3

Prototype 3 - Gate Position Sensor

This device is designed for a gate where the stem does not move up and down. On this device a gear reduction box is attached to the gate stem with a chain and sprocket. The gear reduction box is attached to a disk which adjusts the potentiometer and triggers the limit switches.

Prototype 3

This device is more appropriate than Prototype 2 where vandalism may be a problem or where there is a need for a webcam. On the installation pictured left, both Prototype 3 and a 12-VDC motor are attached to the brass lift nut assembly of the gate hoist.

Current Basin-wide Projects

The Provo Area Office is working on a variety of automation projects, including applications from environmental monitoring (weather, streamflow, soil moisture, groundwater levels, reservoir elevation, water quality, etc.) and warning systems (flood alert, dam safety, contamination alert, etc.) to remote control and automation (reservoir release, selective canal automation, on-farm irrigation control, water quality adjustments, etc.).

Current projects include:

  • Sevier River Basin Monitoring and Control (Utah, USA): Intensive monitoring and control underway on all the major reservoirs and canals in the Sevier River Basin. All real-time information (including a live image of the Richfield diversion structure) is currently available at www.sevierriver.org . This automation system is a joint effort between the Sevier River Water Users Association and Reclamation.
  • Emery County Water Measurement and Control (Utah, USA): Real-time monitoring and control on Emery Water Conservancy District watershed service area. All real-time information (including several real-time images) is currently available at www.ewcd.org
  • Duchesne River Solar-Powered Automation Network (Utah, USA): A comprehensive real-time monitoring and control system has been installed on the Duchesne River and its tributaries - Lake Fork, Yellowstone, Uintah, and Whiterocks rivers. This is a joint project of the Duchesne County Water Conservancy District, Duchesne/Strawberry Water Users Association, Moon Lake Water Users Association, Uintah Indian Irrigation Project, and Reclamation. All real-time information is posted on www.duchesneriver.org
  • Bear River Real-time Monitoring System (Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, USA): The Bear River is somewhat more complicated to operate because of its five border crossings. The river is regulated by the Bear River Commission, an organization with representatives from all three states. There are real-time monitoring sites all up and down the river. All the information gathered is available at www.bearriverbasin.org
  • Spanish Fork Automation System (Utah, USA): A comprehensive real-time monitoring on the Spanish Fork River and its major diversion. The system includes the five original Mormon canals, Strawberry Diversion Structure, Highline Canal, and the Springville Lateral. All the major diversion have been automated and there is an extensive monitoring system on the Highline Canal and Springville Lateral. Real-time monitoring information is available at www.spanishforkriver.org
  • Upper Green River Monitoring System (Wyoming, USA): A 200-station monitoring system is currently being installed on the upper Green River by the Wyoming State Engineer's Office. Reclamation's Provo Area Office is participating in this activity
  • Water District No. 65 Canal Automation (Idaho, USA): Real-time monitoring and control on the canals and reservoirs which make up the District. The latest addition to the real-time system on the Seven-Mile Slough is designed to improve the water quality in the Payette River
  • Jingtai Irrigation Scheme (Gansu Provence, China): Real-time monitoring and gate control on two demonstration sites in north central China (PRC). Provo Area Office staff assisted with design and installation
  • Kerian Irrigation Scheme (State of Perak, Malaysia): Real-time monitoring and control on an entire irrigation (paddy rice) system in northern peninsular Malaysia. Provo Area Office staff is assisting with design

Reclamation's Provo Area Office has also participated in demonstration projects in Sanpete, Beaver, and Wayne counties in Utah, and with the Florida Irrigation Company in Colorado.

Contact Us

Roger Hansen Roger Hansen has a Ph.D in civil and environmental engineering and has been working with automation technologies for over 20 years. He is chief of the Water Automation Group in the Provo Area Office Design Group and the principle investigator on several Reclamation-funded research projects dealing with water system automation.

Arlen Hilton has a B.S. in electrical engineering technology and 20 years of experience with real-time monitoring and control technologies. He is a member of the Provo Area Office Automation Group.

Dave Ainscough is an information technology specialist for the Provo Area Office Automation Group. He has been with the group for over 10 years doing wire installation, gate automation control hardware programming, and developing communication options for sites.

John Strongo has a B.S. in integrated studies comprised of computer networking and business management. He has 10 years of plumbing and waterworks experience. He started with the automation technology and instrumentation project in August 2009, and is a member of the Provo Area Office Automation Group.

Bradley Heisterman has a B.S. in computer information technology and has been working in the computer industry for 10 years. He has experience with both computer systems and SCADA systems, making the display of real-time monitoring data possible. He is a computer assistant and a member of the Provo Area Office Automation Group.

Jackie Hyatt is a hydrologic technician with eight years of experience as a fabricator and developer of prototypes for measuring water level and gate position. She works on the design and low-cost, real time monitoring, and control systems as a member of the Provo Area Office Automation Group.

Bureau of Reclamation, Provo Area Office

302 East 1860 South
Provo, Utah 84606-7317

Last Updated: 10/3/19