Ditches and Canals

The manmade passageways to move water from one area to another.

Related resource topics for county planning include the following:



Map of Data

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

Resource Information

To sustain the influx of pioneer settlers, canals and ditches were constructed throughout Utah, making agriculture possible despite the dry climate [1]. Subsequent development of agriculture brought further expansion of ditches and canals. 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 must be safe to drink or supplied via a pressurized network. 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 often 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 can establish cooperative relationships with irrigation companies, maintain open communication, and materially assist with resolving public safety concerns, and to facilitate resolution of potential conveyance issues that have (or will) result from urban development.
          • Provide public safety by limiting access to dangerous structures, protect vulnerable properties from flooding and slope failure.
          • Establish long-term plans for integrating urbanization, which coordinates historic and future use of water rights.
          • Establish a flood-protection plan, which identifies high-risk features or areas to resolve unsafe conditions, and protects the public from unsafe conditions.
          • Dependable metering could reduce residential overwatering and improve the dependability of the agricultural supply. Not all secondary systems are metered, and those that are do not always receive accurate metering.
          • Counties often have outdated information on canal modifications; encouraging canal companies to provide updated 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 must 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.
          • Support reasonable maintenance of conveyance corridors that balances operational needs with the concerns of property owners.

Relevant Agency Contact Information

Managing irrigation resources and coordinating between the various stakeholders requires a broad understanding of the resources available and the values held by the owners and operators the network of diversions, canals, pipelines, and ditches that connect the irrigated lands in Utah. There are resources available to further support understanding through various organizations in the State that support water resource use and irrigation management.

Utah Association of Irrigation and Canal Companies (UAICC.com) is a relatively new organization assembled for the purpose of promoting the interests of irrigators in the state.

Utah Water Users Association (www.utahwaterusers.com) is a broad association of water users including private, local, state, and federal entities as well as municipal and industrial and agricultural users. Utah Water Users Association is a good forum for learning about the competing interests in the state

Economic Considerations
          • Many organizations holding water rights operate on shoestring budgets for which regular available funding is limited. The funding typically covers only basic maintenance and occasional minor upgrades. Occasionally, such organizations can apply for and receive funding to accommodate more extensive upgrades. 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.
          • 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.
Impact Considerations

The conversion of water use from crop irrigation to urban irrigation is not without complication because 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 because landscape irrigation cannot be delivered all at once, in turn, in the manner that farmers often receive their water. Secondary systems reduce demand on culinary systems, so they can be attractive solutions to municipalities looking to avoid capacity expansions of existing municipal and industrial water lines. However non-crop use of irrigation water may negatively impact irrigation conveyances during peak residential irrigation hours as the water level in the system drops. If this condition occurs, a farmer, especially those at the end of the system, may receive less than their allotment, or may miss their turn altogether. This challenge must be carefully managed to prevent reduction to the farmer’s crop yields, and to ensure financial and production reliability of local agriculture; therefore, a balance must be established.

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

The influx of additional development and increased public proximity to irrigation structures (which could be dangerous) requires consideration of safety measures around irrigation facilities and often mandates the installation of additional safety structures. Such safety upgrades may be costly. Additionally, the increased proximity of development and the public often deliberately or inadvertently results in litter and debris in the canals and ditches, which can cause malfunction of conveyance fixtures.

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 with landscaping, or build structures over pipelines such as sheds, decks, and fences. While these features may provide amenity to a landowner, they limit access to canal and ditch inspectors and maintenance crews, 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 are on any given conveyance. As cropland is developed for other uses, impervious surfaces such as pavement and streets are added. These surfaces do not absorb or hold water. Instead, stormwater runs off them. Thus the concentration of stormwater compounds as the water moves downstream through the topography. This additional surface runoff ends up in the canals and ditches, which are designed to get smaller downstream, not larger. This inverse relationship between the stormwater flows and channel capacity can result in overtopping of banks and flooding of downstream properties. For land in agricultural use, a small ditch overtopping due to an unusual amount of runoff would typically be inconsequential because low density of development put fewer structures in harm’s way; and the characteristic type of agricultural building are less likely to receive any long-term damage. However, as development overtakes cropland, the amount of development and the number of buildings near irrigations structures will increase, and thus so will the risk of flood damage due to stormwater flooding.

Canal and ditches lay on land with various ownership statuses. Any given canal, pipe, or ditch may cross land that is owned by a canal company [2], within an easement or right-of-way, privately owned, or land owned by a municipality. Additionally, some conveyances exist in the form of “prescriptive easements” which allows water rights holder(s) to pass irrigation water across another’s property for delivery upon the shareholder’s land. These easements come with no entitlement except the ability to convey water through the site, and to maintain that conveyance [2]. 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 downstream end of a ditch system. This is also where the ditch channels are the smallest and, conversely, where stormwater will be most concentrated. Upstream development, which results in increased surface runoff, may negatively affect downstream landowner property rights.

The Utah Legislature requires the UDWR 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 [3].

Canals and ditches present important public safety concerns; 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. Utah Division of Water Rights. 2011. Water Right Information. Website accessed August 30, 2016.
  2. Utah State University Extension. 2008. Water Rights in Utah. Website accessed August 30, 2016.
  3. Utah State Code. 2016. Title 73. Water and Irrigation. Website accessed August 30, 2016.