Ditches and Canals

To sustain the influx of pioneer settlers canals and ditches were constructed throughout the Wasatch Region, making agriculture possible despite the dry climate. Often, the term conveyance is used to describe the movement of water from source to application. Ditches, canals, and pipelines are used to convey diverted water from the source to the location where beneficial use is taken. Open channels are not suitable for many uses, so piping must be used for water that needs to be safe to drink or supplied via a pressurized network.

Related resource topics for county planning include:

Map of Data

UDNR.WRT.Canals CFS= Canals from Utah Division of Water Rights.

Download mxd The ESRI mxd file of the services used to create the above map.

Resource Information

Traditionally, irrigation water has been distributed via a network of canals and ditches from rivers and streams; but with time and circumstances dictating, many have been converted to pipelines. Additionally, because of the extensive conversion of agricultural lands into more urban uses, some irrigation water is now distributed through secondary irrigation supply lines that parallel the municipal culinary water supply allowing people to irrigate using water previously allotted to farmland.

The Canal data and the Flowline data can be used to locate ditches and canals in the county.

Best Management Practices
  • Municipalities must establish cooperative relationships with irrigation companies, maintain open communication, and materially assist with resolving public safety concerns.
  • Provide public safety by limiting access to dangerous structures, protect vulnerable properties from flooding and slope failure.
  • Establish long-term a plan for integrating urbanization, which coordinates historic and future use of water rights.
  • Establish a flood protection plan, which identifies high-risk features or areas, that resolves unsafe conditions, and protects the public from unsafe conditions.
  • Not all secondary systems are metered, and those that are do not always receive accurate metering. Dependable metering could reduce residential overwatering and improve the dependability of the agricultural supply.[1]
  • Counties often have outdated information on canal modifications; encouraging canal companies to provide undated mapping information, and/or having a central repository of canal infrastructure would be helpful for planning.
  • If canals are to be relied upon for flood or stormwater management, municipalities must work closely with irrigation companies to assure canal maintenance and flow capacity.
  • Canal companies need to have a safety management plan; counties can help promote awareness of the State’s Canal Safety Program and Canal Inventory, including available funding to assist in developing a safety management plan.  


Economic Considerations
  • Many water right holding organizations function on shoestring budgets for which regular available funding is limited and typically covers only basic maintenance and occasional minor upgrades. Occasionally, such organizations can apply for and receive funding to accommodate more extensive upgrades, but often even those opportunities are rare, and the resources required to obtain such funding is likewise limited. Funding sources for water delivery systems to pay for post-break repairs,maintenance, or the capital upgrades that are often necessary to preserve public safety.
  • Water deliveries are an essential component of agricultural production, and may also be relied upon for urban landscape watering and gardens. The shift from crop irrigation to landscape irrigation can help water rights holder maintain beneficial use and avoid forfeiture of water rights.
  • Through HB370, the Utah Legislature has made funding available to assist canal companies to develop and implement a safety management plan.
  • Some irrigation companies carry expensive insurance that does not always cover losses in times of need. Other companies have no insurance at all. These costs are often unavoidable and are ultimately paid for by the end users. It would be extremely beneficial for both agricultural and M&I users if funding mechanisms were in place that could be easily applied for and implemented.[1]

Impact Considerations

The conversion of water use from crop irrigation to urban irrigation is not without complication as the agricultural conveyance networks are typically operated much differently than other landscape irrigation systems. Canals and ditches deliver water to the user on a schedule such that the operational requirement of the conveyance is maintained. Typically this means that the water in a canal must be deep enough at any given time for the scheduled user get the volume of water they are allotted. If the water level or pressure falls below the operational requirement of the system, the farmer may receive less water than they are allotted. Secondary systems that don’t have their own diversions, can reduce the available flow in a conveyance as landscape irrigation cannot be delivered all at once, in turn, like farmers receive their water. Secondary systems reduce demand on culinary systems so they can be attractive solutions to municipalities. However non-crop use of irrigation water often negatively impacted during peak residential irrigation hours as the water level in the system drops. When this occurs, farmers, especially those at the end of the ditch, miss water turns on their crops. When farmers miss their water turns, the local food supply can be stressed and damaged; therefore, a balance needs to be established.[1]

The change of use from agricultural to other uses as new development may require rerouting of conveyance systems. Often developers (wishing to maximize the buildable lots in a their development) reroute existing channels and/or pipe open channels to create a more favorable subdivision layout. This requires extensive coordination with shareholders and often there is no regulatory mechanism to mediate between the various interests.

With the influx of additional development, increased population and proximity to sites and structures that could be dangerous to the public requires the installation of additional safety structures. Such safety upgrades may be costly. Additionally, the increased development and subsequent population often results in deliberate or inadvertent additional trash and litter entering the canals and ditches, which can cause malfunction of conveyance structures.

Conveyance systems wind their way through the landscape and may cross developed areas, through parks, residential yards, or near businesses. Many people take liberties with the conveyance corridor and embellish canals and ditches, and build structures over pipelines, such as sheds, deck, and fences. While these features may provide amenity to a landowner, they are limit access to maintenance crews, canal and ditch supervisors, and may create obstructions that result in property flooding and damage.

Irrigation conveyances are designed such that streams reduce in capacity moving toward the downstream end of the system as fewer and fewer users be on the system. As cropland is developed into other uses, the area surfaces that don’t allow water to soak into the ground is increased, thus increasing the amount of water that remains on the surface. The concentration of stormwater compounds as the water moves downstream through the topography. Often, this increased surface water ends up in the canals and ditches which are designed to get smaller downstream, not larger. This inverse relationship between the stormwater flows and the channel capacity has resulted in overtopping of the bank and flooding of downstream properties. Furthermore, for land in agricultural use, a small ditch overtopping due to an unusual amount of runoff would typically be inconsequential due to the low density of structures to be damaged. However, as land develops, proximity of structures to ditches increases along with increased stormwater volumes. This combination greatly increases the likelihood of damage to nearby buildings when the ditch is overtopped.

Canal and ditches lay on land with various ownership statuses. Any given canal may cross land that is owned by the canal company outright, or within an easement or right-of-way, but owned by a municipality. A canal may be located or within an easement or right-of-way, but owned by another private third party. Additionally, some conveyances exist in the form of “prescriptive easements” which allows a water rights or shareholder to pass irrigation water across another’s property for delivery upon their own. These easements come with no entitlement accept the ability to convey water through the site and to maintain that conveyance. These prescriptive easements are not designed or intended to accept more water than would naturally be received by runoff while in agricultural use. Often, prescriptive easements occur on the furthest most downstream end of a ditch system where the channels are the smallest, where storm water concentrations will be most concentrated. Upstream development resulting in increased surface runoff may negatively affect downstream landowner property rights.

Under HB370, the Utah Legislature requires the Utah Division of Water Rights to maintain an inventory of all canals in the state. The UDWR’s Canal Safety Program and Canal Inventory website provides a listing of Utah canal companies, a statewide map of canals, and a Conservation District directory, among other resources.

Canals and ditches present important public safety concerns; under HB 370, the State Engineer has authority to examine and inspect any ditch or other diverting works and may order additions or alterations to assure public safety.

Data Download
  GIS Data Map Service Web Map Document  Tabular Data  Website
Data NameData ExplanationPublication DateSpatial AccuracyContact
Canals and Ditches from National Hydrology Dataset (NHD)
To get canals and ditches use field “FType” = 334 Connecter and336 Canal/DitchesData download 7/01/2015

Maps service update schedule is not specified
Canals and Ditches from Utah Division of Water Rights (UDWRi)
Canals and DitchesUnknownUnknownUtah Division of Water Rights


  1. Davis Conservation District. 2012. Davis County Resource Assessment.