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Removal of Culvert above Westwater Canyon


Removal of Culvert above Westwater Canyon

Figuring out what to do.

Figuring out what to do.

What Happened

During our Mid-September monsoon rains a side stream flash flooded causing an extremely large culvert to wash into the Colorado River.  Luckily it ended up near the Westwater Ranger Station and not in the fast moving section of Westwater Canyon.  One can only imagine the dangers that could have been created trying to navigate around jagged and sharp metal while running rapids.  But with the large culvert still in the river, the possibility existed that the river could rise and send it downstream.  Canyon Voyages operations manager, Scott Solle, recognized that something needed to be done and took initiative to remove this trash from our river.

Our Response

Phone calls were made to almost every outfitter in Moab that operates in Westwater Canyon to see who would be available to volunteer their time to help.  Navtec and Sheri Griffith Expeditions were the first to make equipment and guides available.  On Monday, September 22, 2014, a team of 8 river runners headed to Westwater Ranger Station to tackle the issue.  Sheri Griffith Expeditions showed up with three guides and 3-22’ J-Tubes and 1 half tube. Navtec brought a 20’ sport boat and three guides as well.  Canyon Voyages was able to arrive with two guides and a truck load of rope rigging equipment.

What are J-Tubes

The J-tubes are used by river companies to create large motorized rafts that mainly operate in Cataract Canyon.  The original use was by the military as a way to create temporary bridges across rivers so tanks and vehicles could cross.  For this operation, they would be used to float the culvert to a point where heavy equipment would be able to remove it from the river.

What are Sport Boats

Sport boats are also designed for river running in Cataract Canyon.  They are a high speed motorized raft with a rigid hull. Navtec is the only company in Moab that offers a trip through 100 mile Cataract Canyon in just one day.  The sport boat was to be used to ferry people and equipment to the site and then tow the culvert to the access point for the heavy equipment.

The Issue

The complex problem was how to put everything together to make it all work.  In the end the plan was to lash all the J-Tubes together to form a raft, lift the culvert up the river bank, float the raft underneath the culvert, roll the culvert onto the raft and secure it.  Then we could tow the contraption to the Westwater boat ramp – just downstream and on the other side of the river. In order to haul the culvert uphill the team set up a haul system.  Most river runners may be familiar with a haul system known as a “z-drag.”  This is a 3:1 Mechanical Advantage and commonly used to extricate rafts which are pinned on a rock.  With only 5 to 6 people available to haul on a rope, a 3:1 was simply not enough to get the job done.  Scott has over a decade of experience teaching Swiftwater Rescue and devised a system that would haul with 12:1 Mechanical Advantage.

What is a 12:1 Mechanical Advantage

A 12:1 Mechanical Advantage means that in order to move the culvert 1 foot, the team would need to pull the rope 12 feet.  The trade off is that someone pulling on the rope with 100 pounds of force for 12 feet would be exerting 1200 pounds of force for 1 foot.  This was just enough and it worked.

The Finish

The team was able to pull it up the bank and secure it while the homemade raft was put into position.  The culvert was then slowly lowered onto the raft and then lashed down.  Brian Martinez from Navtec has well over a decade of experience running sport boats and handled the flotilla with ease.  The culvert was tied up to the shoreline where the heavy equipment will pull it out of the river.


This was a great way to bring together 3 amicable, competing companies to work together to solve a common goal.  The team was in agreement that no single company could have done it alone, and that day the team worked together as though they were just one company.  We are happy that we have such a great river community here in Moab Utah.

Gettin’ er’ done. Brian tows culvert to other side of the Colorado River.

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