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Water world going 'high tech' as canal gets computerized
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Emily Harwood
Editorial Staff
Gunnison Valley News
May 10, 2000

This is a digital photograph of Arlen Hilton from the Bureau of Reclamation's Provo Area Office working on the automation system on the Gunnison/Fayette Canal diversion structure.For generations, says Roger Hansen, planning team leader for the Provo are office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, adjusting the gates of a canal meant turning a wheel to raise and lower them.

Not anymore, he adds. With the stroke of a few keys, this same task can be accomplished at home with a computer. “This allows [water managers] greater flexibility in operating their canals without infringing on the time have in their other jobs,” Hansen states.

About a month ago, a team from the Bureau of Reclamation installed the software and equipment along the Gunnison/Fayette Canal to automate the intake gates. On May 9, the intake gates to the Westview Canal were automated.

“This system is designed to maintain a constant flow in the canal, no matter what the conditions in the river,” says Hansen.

Using a modem connected to a personal computer, the water master can call a cell phone located at the canal site. The water master, or anyone operating the computer, can find out how much water is in the canal and then makes any changes by typing the information into the computer. This relayed back to the canal site, and the changes were made. If the levels are too low or there are any other problems, the cell phone can actually call the phone number of the water master and using a voice synthesizer, report the problem.

In the near future, the cell phone may be replaced with a radio transmitter in order to avoid cell phone charges.

“It’s a real water saver for us,” said Scott Bartholomew, president of the Gunnison/Fayette Canal Company.

Last month was a perfect time to automate the canal Bartholomew adds. The dam was also in need of repair, and both tasks were accomplished at the same time.

The cost of the project, says Hansen, totaled about $1,500 for the Sevier River Water Users Association and around $2,000 for the canal company. The bureau also pitches in some the costs for labor and support. There are some additional costs with hooking up the gates in the river, which is planned for the future.

The automation has resulted in less chasing around for Eugene Lund, water master of the Gunnison/Fayette Canal. While he still drives out to check on things, Lund says using the computer has made his job a little easier.

Hansen says that this system can be used in a number of ways. If there is a large rainstorm, for example, the water manager can call up the canal and, using his computer tell it to deliver less water.

Hopefully, Hansen adds, the site will allow for better water management. With increased date, it is anticipated that irrigators will stretch their water supply and improve crop yields.

Although automation has proven to save both time and water, both Hansen and Bartholomew say they’re still getting the kinks out the system.

In a few months, it is anticipated that anyone can access information on the Gunnison/Fayette canals via the Sevier River Water Users Association web site at

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