Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

How the Davis and Weber Counties Canal Company Is Modernizing Its 140‑Year-Old System

The Davis and Weber Counties Canal Company (DWCCC) is a wholesale and retail water supplier for several thousand acres of agricultural, residential, and commercial land in northern Utah. With a nearly 140-year-old system in a rapidly urbanizing area, the DWCCC is putting significant money and effort into lining, enclosing, and updating its delivery system and adapting to the conversion of agricultural lands to urbanization. In this interview, DWCCC General Manager Rick Smith tells Irrigation Leader about the company’s infrastructure work and plans for the future. 

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position. 

Rick Smith: I’m the general manager of the DWCCC. I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Brigham Young University. I am a professional engineer licensed in Utah. I worked for a consulting firm called J‑U‑B Engineers for more than 17 years. The DWCCC was one of our clients, so I was involved with the company from the outside as an engineering consultant. I’ve been the general manager now for over 4 years. 

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about the history of the DWCCC. 

Rick Smith: The DWCCC was created in 1884, before Utah was a state. It was an extension of a company that served the agricultural land in Davis and Weber Counties. It is a private, mutual irrigation company with shareholders. Today, we have just over 17 miles of canal in our system. We serve roughly 40,000 irrigated acres. Over the last 30 years, we’ve been shifting away from exclusively providing water for flood irrigation and beginning to provide secondary water for residential and commercial properties, such as lawns and gardens. This is known as a dual system in some areas. Today, we have a total of 14 employees, including our reservoir tender and me. 

Irrigation Leader: What is the breakdown between agricultural and urban customers? 

Rick Smith: We’ve been trying to analyze that. It’s probably getting close to 50/50 now, considering how much this area has grown. Over the last 30 years, the landscape has really changed; what used to be mostly farms now includes a lot of homes, schools, parks, churches, and businesses. 

Irrigation Leader: How many urban customers do you deliver water to? 

Rick Smith: Our company alone has roughly 16,000 connections. We also serve other companies and cities that provide water through their own secondary systems. We serve five cities either completely or partially, as well as two other entities that have their own systems. Based on what I’ve heard from them, I think we provide water to a total of around 35,500 urban connections. 

Irrigation Leader: What are the primary crops grown on your agricultural land? 

Rick Smith: Alfalfa, beans, corn, melons, onions, peppers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and wheat. 

Irrigation Leader: What are the primary forms of irrigation in your area? 

Rick Smith: For agriculture, it’s flood irrigation. I do not know any farmers who have converted to pressurized systems. The secondary water we provide is pressurized and is used for lawn and garden sprinkler systems. 

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your water source and your infrastructure. 

Rick Smith: Our main water source is the Weber River and one of its tributaries, East Canyon Creek. At the mouth of Weber Canyon, we divert the river into our canal system, which then skirts along the bench and heads west, going around Hill Air Force Base. The canal slope is nearly flat. 

In addition to our natural rights on the Weber River, we have storage rights. We draw from two large storage reservoirs, Echo Reservoir and East Canyon Reservoir, which are both operated and maintained in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation. East Canyon Dam was originally owned and operated by the DWCCC. The first three dams in that location were built by the DWCCC in the 1880s and early 1900s. The current dam increased the volume of storage and was built by Reclamation for the Weber Basin Project in the 1960s. 

We deliver water to ditch companies, like a wholesaler to its stockholders. Each ditch company off our system is an independent private entity. Those ditch companies are responsible for their delivery infrastructure and laterals. It is their their responsibility to deliver the water to our shareholders through flood irrigation pipes. Some of the turnouts off our canal supply water to our secondary water system reservoirs. 

The DWCCC owns just over 39 percent of the Weber River Water Users Association (WRWUA), which is the company that runs Echo Dam. For many years, one manager has run both DWCCC and WRWUA because they are so integrally connected. By contract, we also run the Kaysville Irrigation Company (KIC), a smaller irrigation company that is in the same city as one of our secondary systems and is a water supplier for that pressure system. Because its number of users has been slowly diminishing, the KIC asked us to operate it beginning this year. Combined, the City of Kaysville and the DWCCC own and control more than 65 percent of the KIC’s stock. 

Irrigation Leader: How many ditch companies do you serve?

A newly lined canal in the DWCCC’s system.

Rick Smith: We serve approximately 25 ditch companies and roughly 30 siphons. We used to serve more ditches, but some of them have disappeared as the land was developed. Those areas usually are added to our pressurized system, which serves outdoor landscaping, lawns, and gardens. 

Irrigation Leader: Do you set your assessments per acre or per ditch company? 

Rick Smith: We assess per share. There are 10,000 water shares in our company. The amount of water a customer gets from us depends on their water shares and the water resources we have available. In addition to water share assessments, the ditch companies we deliver to often charge their users a ditch fee. 

Irrigation Leader: Do you have any hydropower installations? 

Rick Smith: In the recent past, we have applied for and received several WaterSMART grants from Reclamation. We have constructed some small hydro installments as part of that process. One of our challenges is that, because our canal is flat, we have limited head. That means that the velocity of the water is our source of generating power. 

Historically, the company was able to run the water through the wintertime, and there was an old hydro plant that came off the upper part of our canal system in South Weber. I know the company sent a lot of water there during the wintertime. I’ve heard that they would throw dynamite into the canal to break the ice and keep the water flowing. I’m not sure exactly when that power station was abandoned or decommissioned, but we haven’t run power to it for a long time. 

Irrigation Leader: What are the top issues that your canal company faces today? 

Rick Smith: Our canal system was built in 1884, with concrete liner installed around 1911, so it is old. In 1999, our canal breached in Riverdale and flooded parts of a neighborhood. That required repairs, restorations, and updates to our canal system. Since then, we’ve developed a capital facility plan to repair and upgrade parts of the canal system and to enclose parts of it so that it is more fortified and ready to deliver water for the next hundred years and more. Over 70 percent of the canal system has been redone, realigned, or enclosed since 1999. We’ve spent $40 million on those projects. 

Over the last year, we enclosed a section that had never been lined and has houses on both sides of it. There are always pieces that we’re trying to enclose or otherwise improve. Over the next 20 years, we’ll be enclosing more of the open canal. In addition to the conservation gains, enclosing the canal reduces maintenance issues, since it reduces the amount of debris that enters the canal and the amount of algae that grows in it. Other challenges include encroachment by urbanization and the fact that several utilities cross our canal right of way. 

Newly installed Emrgy small hydro units operating in a DWCCC canal.

Irrigation Leader: What materials have you used to line your canals? 

Rick Smith: We’ve used cast-in-place and precast box culverts, large-diameter pipes, and new reinforced concrete liner with Waterstop. 

Irrigation Leader: What is your company’s next big project? 

Rick Smith: Our main goal is to slowly chip away at our system. We are enclosing additional sections of our open canal in the Clearfield area, not too far from our offices. We’re replacing open canal liner that has been there for a long time; in some places, there has been no liner. In order to afford that work, we’ve applied for some WaterSMART grants. We have also received state funding in the form of 20- to 35‑year low-interest loans. We are working on several things in our secondary system. We recently finished a 42-inch pressure pipe, and this winter, we’re building a new booster station to pressurize some of our secondary water. We are also starting to retrofit individual services with meters. 

Irrigation Leader: How has the pandemic affected your operations? 

Rick Smith: It hasn’t affected us too much. We are an essential company, so we have continued our work. We put some restrictions on the few people coming into our office and created barriers in the office so that people’s movements are limited. During this time, we’ve had to exchange water shares, sign people up for the water rental pool, and get people ready for the water season; developers and engineers have also been dropping off plans for new developments connecting to our secondary water system. 

Irrigation Leader: What is your message to Congress and to Reclamation? 

Rick Smith: We are appreciative of Reclamation and its WaterSMART program. We would like solar to be an option for the green energy component, since it can be challenging to get hydro options. Any money that we can get to put toward our irrigation and water projects is helpful for everybody. When we combine those grant awards with state funds and our own money, we can get a lot of these projects fast tracked. That seed money has helped us improve our system more quickly without increasing our share assessments too much. We’re trying to encourage water conservation, help our end users be water wise, and protect and use our water resources in a wise manner. 

 

Rick Smith is the general manager of the Davis and Weber Counties Canal Company and the Weber River Water Users Association. He can be contacted at ricks@davisweber.org or (801) 774‑6373.