Long expanses of concrete canal lining exposed to the sun and weather would experience significant internal tensile drying shrinkage stresses. Regular contraction joints help to relieve the internal tension created by concrete shrinkage. If no contraction joints are provided, shrinkage will still occur and the concrete lining will produce its own contraction joints, better known as “cracks.” Unfortunately, the resulting cracking will be random and can vary significantly in size and length. Thus, contraction joints are a good approach to help induce cracking at regular, controlled locations. If the client doesn’t want contraction joints, they need to understand that cracking will be much more extensive and likely more noticeable.
Theoretically, with the same percentage of embedded reinforcement, cracking between a 2 or 4 in. (51 or 102 mm) should not be substantially different. Of course, the 4 in. (102 mm) thick shotcrete section would require twice the concrete material and twice the embedded reinforcement to maintain the same percentage of reinforcement. A 2 in. (51 mm) thick section could have some difficulty in maintaining adequate cover over embedded reinforcing bars. The designers could also consider using fiber-reinforced shotcrete to help control shrinkage and temperature stresses, although fairly high dosages are needed for effective elimination of reinforcing bars. More guidance on fiber-reinforced shotcrete is available in ACI 506.1R-08, “Guide to Fiber-Reinforced Shotcrete”. A 2 in. (51 mm) overlay is absolutely the least possible and 3 or 4 in. (76 or 102 mm) is far more normal in practice.
Canals are generally specified to have a natural gun finish, a rough broom finish, or a light broom finish.