Cache la Poudre watershed: Michigan Ditch bore on tap for summer

Michigan Ditch photo via AllTrails.com
Michigan Ditch photo via AllTrails.com

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Winter is still hanging on in the cold, high mountains around Cameron Pass.

But that hasn’t stopped Fort Collins Utilities from working on a critical project for the city and its residents.

Crews have been clearing snow from the Michigan Ditch Road and the ditch running next to it since around April 1. This is normal procedure given the need to move water along the ditch to city-owned Joe Wright Reservoir, which sits east of the pass along Colorado Highway 14.

But this year the work is a little different. It is being done in anticipation of closing a section of the road to allow construction of a tunnel that would carry the ditch to its destination.

A contractor hired by the city will use a custom-made tunnel boring machine, or TBM, to carve an 800-foot-long, slightly curved path through solid rock. The tunnel will have an 8-foot diameter.

Crews will work seven days a week, 12 hours a day on the project. The boring machine is expected to churn through up to 20 feet of rock a day, said Owen Randall, chief engineer for Fort Collins Utilities.

Once the tunnel is dug, a 60-inch pipe made from a fiberglass-type material will be installed and connected to the ditch, which originates in the upper Michigan River basin.

The TBM, which looks like it could be part of the International Space Station, will be 27 feet long and weigh 58,000 pounds. It will have an operator inside to “drive” it and a conveyance belt and ore cars running out the back to carry away rock chewed up by its massive rotating cutting head.

The machine costs $1.8 million. The city will rent it for $900,000, Randall said, since there’s really no reason for the city to own that kind of machine. When its work is done, it will be sent back to the manufacturer for refurbishing and other jobs.

All this effort is needed because a slow-moving but unstoppable landslide has been roughing up the ditch and its pipeline for some years. Rather than constantly repairing slide damage, which was especially severe in 2015, city officials decided to pay the price to protect the pipe by sending it through rock the slide can’t budge.

The project, including design and construction, is expected to cost Fort Collins Utilities about $8.5 million.

But given that the value of the water the ditch moves (and the rights to that water) is more than $100 million, city officials believe the investment is worthwhile.

The TBM is expected to be delivered and ready to launch in June. Weather and scheduling permitting, the ditch is expected to be operational in time for the 2017 spring runoff.

For more information on the project, see http://fcgov.com/michigan-ditch-tunnel.

Boring machine photo via https://www.herrenknecht.com
Boring machine photo via https://www.herrenknecht.com

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