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Old canal in Winter Park goes under cover

Denver Water buries section of a 1930s waterway to improve safety, reliability and efficiency.

Denver Water is burying a 4,400-foot section of open canal in Winter Park as part of a $5.4 million infrastructure improvement project.

The Ranch Creek Canal was built in the 1930s and carries water from the mountains into the Moffat Tunnel where water flows to the Front Range for water supply.

Construction workers place a large section of concrete pipe into the Ranch Creek Canal in Winter Park in August 2020. Photo credit: Denver Water.


The canal is located on the east side of U.S. Highway 40 behind the Lakota subdivision and runs north along Forest Service Road 128.

Crews from Garney Construction started working on the canal in late-June. The project involves placing 8-foot sections of pipe that are 7 feet in diameter into the original canal channel.

Each section of reinforced concrete pipe is fabricated to fit together to match the bends of the canal. Construction crews have to carefully manage the slope as well to make sure water flows downhill once the conversion to a water pipeline is complete.

“Enclosing the canal will make it more reliable and more efficient,” said Jessica Barbier, Denver Water’s engineer on the project. “Water is lost through evaporation and through seepage. Open canals are also vulnerable to ice jams as well as debris sliding in from the sides.”

Denver Water project engineer Jessica Barbier (left), and construction project inspector Chris Crumley, check out a section of new pipe before installation. Photo credit: Denver Water.


Safety is another reason why Denver Water is upgrading the canal. When the canal was built in the 1930s, it was in a remote part of Grand County, but now there are homes close by and more people who use the road next to the canal to access summer recreation spots.

Once the pipes are installed, crews will cover it with dirt so it integrates with the environment and is safer for the community and wildlife.

Ranch Creek Canal flowing in 1956. The original canal was dug out of the side of a hill and not covered. Photo credit: Denver Water.


Denver Water has enclosed other sections of its canals in Grand County for the same reasons as the Ranch Creek Canal project.

The project also includes replacing a water measurement device, adding pipe access points, building new head gates and repairing a connection tunnel.

Once the work wraps up in October, more than half of the 11,000-foot-long canal will be covered. Denver Water has plans to enclose the final section in the future, but a timeline has not been set.

Denver Water surveyor Mike Briscoe, checks the alignment and slope of the new Ranch Creek Canal pipes. Photo credit: Denver Water.