Salt Lake Valley East Bench Canals

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This page was last updated on October 25, 2018.

Canals Overview

Within a month of arriving in Salt Lake valley in July 1847, the pioneers diverted City Creek stream for irrigation and domestic purposes and it became the city's main source of water. In later years, residents used wells and canyon streams for household water. As the city grew, water from the numerous canyon creeks and streams was used for irrigation purposes. Because it was so much clearer and cleaner, city leaders wanted to use water from canyon streams for household purposes, and find other sources for irrigation purposes.

Farmers had already appropriated the the canyon streams in the valley, and had legal rights to so. This meant that Salt Lake City was forced to look to taking water from the Jordan River and Utah Lake. On August 9, 1864, Alderman Sheet reported that he had "inquired into the propriety and practicality of introducing a greater supply of water to meet the pressing wants of the citizens in watering their lots." With the Jordan River being the lowest point in the valley, he said that the "waters of the Jordan River were almost entirely unavailable for irrigation purposes, but might be rendered available by raising a dam at its headwaters (at Utah Lake) and bringing a canal from thence around to the city, which though requiring great expenditure, would be attended with great results in saving our gardens in times of drought."

The Jordan & Salt Lake City Canal was the result in the late 1870s of many attempts over the previous 20 years to bring irrigation water to the east side of the Salt Lake valley, and could trace its start back to the second canal to be built (in 1864) along the east benches of the valley. In 1879 work commenced to extend the Jordan & Salt Lake City Canal into the city limits of Salt Lake City and began conveying Utah Lake water to the city's inhabitants. Water in the canal was used for irrigation only.

The Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal was completed in 1882, bringing the waters of Utah Lake to the City. The canal's northern terminus was at the forks of City Creek Canyon Creek, close to the present intersections of State and North Temple Streets. Later the canal would allow the City to enter into exchange agreements with the farmers to acquire the rights to the clear mountain waters of Parleys, Mill Creek and Big and Little Cottonwood creeks.

Canals For Irrigation

March 20, 1852
"Cottonwood Canal -- The legislature, at their recent session, appropriated two thousand dollars towards the completion of the Cottonwood Canal; and unless said canal is completed before irrigating season commences, those who are dependent on the waters of Mill creek to wet their crops may expect to see their lands left high and dry, for the Mill creek will be devoted to milling purposes, and be carried still further north for irrigating; and unless the Cottonwood canal is completed before the opening of spring work, laborers will be scarce, and it will be difficult if not impossible to do what will be necessary to secure the water to the big fields and other portions of land intervening, and drought and loss of grain will be the natural result." (Deseret News, March 20, 1852)

April 17, 1852
"The Cottonwood Canal is surveyed and ready for the laborer and unless completed soon, much land must go without irrigation this season. Those owning land in the vicinity, and wanting water, can have the chance of making the whole, if they choose. I am ready to pay liberal wages for the completion of the whole or nay part thereof, in the use of the water, or orders on the Treasury, which will be some of the best property in the territory. Now is the time; come in; first come, first served. Ira Eldredge, Territorial Commissioner." (Deseret News, April 17, 1852)

(The same ad ran regularly throughout the season, through early November 1852)

December 25, 1852
"The work on the Cottonwood Canal, is progressing rapidly at present, and will most probably soon be completed." (Deseret News, December 25, 1852; included in annual message from Governor Brigham Young to Territorial legislature)

February 19, 1853
"An Act Appropriating Money For the Completion Of The Big Cottonwood Canal. Sec. 1 Be it enacted by the Governor and Legislature Assembly of the territory of Utah, That the territorial Road Commissioner is hereby authorized to draw money from the Public Treasury, and expend it for the completion of the Big Cottonwood Canal, and to keep a correct account of all money thus expended, and yearly present it to the auditor of Public Accounts, on or before the first day of October, until said canal shall be completed. Approved Jan. 21, 1853. Secretary's Office, Territory of Utah." signed Benjamin G. Ferris, Secretary. (Deseret News, February 19, 1853)

"In 1854 and 1855 acts were passed providing for the construction of canals between Utah Lake, Big Cottonwood Creek, and Great Salt Lake. The first was to commence above the rapids of the Jordan, where a dam was to be built, and thence following the base of the mountains, on the east of Great Salt Lake Valley, to Salt Lake City, with depth sufficient for boats drawing two and a half feet of water. The Cottonwood canal was to divert half the waters of the creek and conduct them to Salt Lake City." (Bancroft, History of Utah, 1890, page 607, citing "Utah Acts Legisl. (ed. 1855), 277-8, and (ed. 1866), 175-6.8")

A canal was started in 1855, taking its water from Big Cottonwood Creek. The Big Cottonwood canal was a failure because in many places the canal banks were porous sandy and loose soil and would not hold water. (Bancroft, History of Utah, 1890, page 722)

Work on the original canal, started in 1855, continued through 1857, after which it lay idle and dormant. The canal was used for irrigation, but soon it too lay dormant after other canals were built along the east bench lands, better serving the needs of the farmers. By 1914, the few remnants remaining were fast disappearing from view. (Salt Lake Telegram, July 4, 1914)

"For act incorporating the Big Cottonwood Canal Co., see Utah Acts Legist., 1855, 277-9; for progress of work, Deseret News, Aug. 29, 1855, March 25, 1857."

A second canal was planned in late 1864, taking water from the Jordan River at the narrows between Salt Lake and Utah valleys. Work was delayed by lack of manpower to do the work, and by difficulties in completing the actual construction itself to maintain a constant slope between the Jordan and Salt lake City. Work progressed intermittently until the railroad first came into Utah in 1868. Work on the canal was suspended, but the trips of heavy wagons pulled by oxen continued. More oxen and more wagons, and improved roads kept the granite moving until the railroad reached Sandy in 1871.

"In 1864 year it was first proposed to bring the waters of Utah Lake into Salt Lake co., where there was not one third of the water needed for irrigation. The cost of making a canal for this purpose, 32 miles in length, 20 feet broad at the bottom, 3 feet deep, and capable of irrigating about 30,000 acres per week, was estimated at $485,580. Deseret News, November 30, 1864. The enterprise was termed the Deseret Irrigation and Navigation Co. The governor refused to grant a franchise. See Utah Jour. Legist., 1861-5, 116-17; but it was incorporated in 1867. The act of incorporation will be found in Utah Acts Legid., 1867, pp. 30-2." (Bancroft, 1890, page 722)

January 20, 1865
The Utah Territorial Legislature passed a law, and Governor Doty approved it, "An Act To Incorporate Irrigation Companies." (Deseret News, February 1, 1865)

February 4, 1865
A mass meeting was held at the Tabernacle to organize an irrigation company by the name of "Deseret Irrigation and Canal Company" to serve the lands east of the Jordan river, under the provisions of the recently passed territorial law to incorporate irrigation companies. The route of the planned canal had been surveyed by Jesse Fox, and would be 32 miles long, from the Jordan River at or near the Salt Lake and Utah county line, to Salt Lake City and its "terminus opposite the northeast block of the Thirteenth Ward, near Mr. Camp's house." The canal was to 20 feet wide and three feet deep, and would have a total of ten locks, varying from six to ten feet in depth of fall. Flumes would be built across (south to north) Willow Creek, Dry Creek, Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood, Mill Creek and Big Kanyon Creek, 20 feet wide and 3-1/2 feet deep, varying from 40 feet to 132 feet in length. The portion between Little Cottonwood and the city was 12-1/4 miles, and was to be completed "this season" for the purpose of hauling rock from the granite quarry. (Deseret News, February 15, 1865, full page, including a detailed description of the organization and route)

(Research in available online newspapers suggests that nothing came of this early effort to build a canal from Jordan to Salt Lake City.)

January 23, 1867
The Utah Territorial House approved "An Act to incorporate the Deseret Irrigation and Navigation Canal Company." (H. F. No. 8) (Deseret News, January 23, 1867)

April 8, 1867
At the morning session of the semi-annual general conference of the church, Brigham Young spoke of the importance of the canal for moving rock for the temple: "President B. Young said he wishes to see the Temple raised, and built strong enough to stand during the Millennium. We have to work unitedly and with full purpose of heart; and he wished this Temple to stand as a monument of the energy and faith of the people in their early labors. He extended the privilege to those who would accept it, that they might furnish teams for the purpose of hauling rock to be used in its construction. The completion of the canal will enable the rock to be brought much easier than it now can be; and if those who are to derive benefit by its waters, will pay the tax imposed for that purpose, but a short time will elapse before it will be ready for opening." (Deseret News, April 10, 1867)

At the afternoon session, also on April 8th, Brigham Young spoke again on the subject: "We have decided that this Temple shall be built of this beautiful granite rock, which, I think, will please every one. We are preparing a canal to bring the rock to this city; still we shall have five or six miles to draw the rock to the. canal; but the most of the distance where our bad roads are we shall float this rock on little boats that we shall have on this canal. We want all the brethren to pay their tithing or tax for the privilege of watering their lands from this ditch or canal according to the charter and organization of the company who are performing this labor. If the brethren will do this we can have the ditch finished up and in operation la a month or two." (Deseret News, May 29, 1867)

January 5, 1870
"Such progress is being made on the Deseret Irrigation and Navigation Canal, as to warrant the hope that between now and Spring it will be in a condition to be used for the boating rock for the Temple." (Deseret News, January 5, 1870, "The Year 1869")

May 14, 1873
"Some years ago, W. S. Godbe, in connection with H. W. Lawrence, William Jennings and others, at the request of Brigham Young, loaned him as Trustee in Trust for the church $10,000 each. This loan was used by the Trustee in the prosecution of the Deseret Irrigation and Navigation canal scheme, an enterprise inaugurated to float granite from Cottonwood to build the temple with, the serpentine course of which is dimly traceable in the gravel on the Bench east of the city." (Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1873)

(This story of an irrigation canal along the Salt Lake valley's east side, continues with the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal, started in 1879 and completed in 1882.)

Canals To Move Granite

After work started on the LDS Salt Lake City temple in 1853, heavy wagons with wide wheels were used to move sandstone blocks from Red Butte canyon to the temple site. The short distance allowed two trips in a single day. Work on the temple stopped in 1857 when the U. S. Army came through, and resumed in 1862. When work resumed, they discovered that sandstone cracked due to the heavy stones above, and granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon was substituted. But the granite quarry was 20 miles away. A call went out for oxen and wagons, and the work began to move granite blocks, large and small, on a round trip that took four days, much too long to complete the project in the time period desired.

To expedite delivery and also to reduce the cost by three-fourths, a canal was proposed on which the granite stones could be delivered on barges. Though conceived as early as 1849 the canal was long in coming. A first attempt was begun in 1855, taking its water from Big Cottonwood Creek, but its location would not hold water.

April 25, 1855
"Notice -- The Big Cottonwood Canal, to be dug for the purpose of boating granite to build the Temple, is being surveyed, and the completion of all that portion north of Little Kanyon Creek, between it and its terminus in Great Salt Lake City, br. David Wilkin has been appointed to superintend, and to dispose of the lands adjoining." "Brigham Young" (Deseret News, April 25, 1855)

(The same notice ran weekly through March 5, 1856, and according to the Deseret News, October 31, 1855, the planned completion was May 1, 1856. By April 15, 1857, the canal was still unfinished, although church leaders had been calling for the brethren to get busy on the important project. By mid June 1857, the largest delay was a long cut north of "Kanyon Creek," 53 feet deep, with two years projected for completion of just the cut.)

October 31, 1855
"A large amount of stone has been laid in the temple foundation which has been finished ready for the basement story but owing to want of stone, the work, since the 1st of August, has been and still is suspended. The teams engaged in hauling stone had to be turned away to range in consequence of the feeds falling in the vicinity of the quarry and city." "We hope to obviate the occurrence of a similar suspension in future, by availing ourselves of the Big Cottonwood Canal, which, it is expected, will be ready for operations by the 1st of May next, and upon which we design bringing the granite stone for the further erection of the Temple. (Thirteenth General Epistle, Deseret News, October 31, 1855)

(The Deseret News made note that the Cottonwood Canal ran from Mill Creek to Salt Lake City. -- Deseret News, February 6, 1878)

March 17, 1857
Brigham Young and other church leaders, along with Surveyor General Jesse W. Fox, made an inspection trip to the work site of the Big Cottonwood canal. The purpose of the canal was to "afford water for fields and gardens, and to float boats laden with granite for the temple and other magnificent buildings." (Deseret News, March 25, 1857)

April 6, 1857
There came a time when men were needed to work on the Big Cottonwood Canal, so in a speech delivered by Daniel H. Wells, April 6, 1857 he remarked that "The Big Cottonwood Canal should be finished to facilitate procuring rock for the building of the Temple. Much labour has already been expended upon it, but it requires still more. The brethren have been very diligent in this matter, but we expect that we shall have to call upon them further for labour on that work. We are anxious to have the water let into that canal, to test all weak places, that they may be strengthened, and the work thoroughly completed; for the water is needed for irrigation as well as for boating. Will you lend your aid in this enterprise? Will we complete it this season, that we may boat rock for the Temple? This will be proved by your acts, as well as by your faith." (Heart Throbs of the West, Kate B. Carter, Vol.7, p.279)

Another more formal attempt was tried in 1865, with the incorporation of the "Deseret Irrigation and Canal Company" on February 4, 1865. A mass meeting was held at the Tabernacle to organize an irrigation company to serve the lands east of the Jordan river, under the provisions of the recently passed territorial law to incorporate irrigation companies.

February 15, 1865
The Deseret Irrigation and Navigation Canal District was organized, with an estimated cost of $403,000. The canal was to be 12 miles in length, and was to be three feet deep and 20 feet wide. It was to have ten locks, varying in depth from six to ten feet in "fall." There were to be six flumes from 40 to 140 feet in length, all three feet deep, and crossing the six creeks along the route: Willow creek, Dry creek, Little Cottonwood creek, Big Cottonwood creek, Mill creek, and Big Kanyon creek. "That portion of the Canal which it is the expectation of the Trustees to have finished the coming season, namely, between this city and the Little Cottonwood, will furnish a means of transportation which we imperatively require from the granite quarry that has been opened in that kanyon. We have proved to our satisfaction that the hauling of rock from that quarry by teams is a very expensive business. Yet there is the rock which we need in this city, and which we must have, to build the Temple and to beautify and adorn the city by supplying material to erect public and private buildings, to lay foundations, and the other numberless purposes to which a handsome, durable stone can be applied. -- Brigham Young, President." (Deseret News, February 15, 1865)

The separate company failed to gather support, and in January 1867, another attempt was made with the canal organized as a project of the Territorial government. Church leaders spoke in favor of the venture, expounding on the need and its benefits, in the April 1867 semi-annual conference of the church.

This project in 1867 also failed due to the lack of support from church members who were to supply the needed labor to construct the canal. Newspaper accounts suggest that parts of the canal were finished in those southeastern parts of the valley where farmers could make use of the water that was diverted from the two Cottonwood canyons, and Mill Creek, but it was the connecting parts that failed to be completed.

"In the year 1867, a company was organized, called the Deseret Irrigation and Navigation Canal Company, which was created a body corporate in law, and which built the canal now called the Lower Canal or the Church Canal, and acquired rights in relation thereto which are still valid in law and in justice. The right of way was purchased for a considerable part of the route, and stock was taken in the Company by many of our leading citizens. It is stated that when, by reason of the building of the railroad, some of the purposes for which the canal was constructed were abandoned..." (Deseret News, November 17, 1880, editorial)

Work on the portion of the canal that was planned to move granite blocks was suspended in 1868 with the pending arrival of the railroad. The use of a canal to move the granite was forgotten and trips of heavy wagons pulled by oxen continued. More oxen and more wagons, and improved roads kept the granite moving until the railroad reached Sandy in 1871.

Starting in 1871, the railroad was extended south out of Salt Lake City into Utah Valley and beyond, together with a spur east out of Sandy into Little Cottonwood Canyon to the granite quarry. Using a railroad to move granite blocks provided an easier and still less expensive way of getting stone from the quarry to the temple block. The Utah Southern reached Sandy from Salt Lake City in September 1871, and started a spur to the granite quarries in Summer 1872, but work on the spur suspended to allow scarce funds to be used to extend the line to Provo. The movement of granite by oxen and heavy wagon continued, although the trip was shorter, from the quarries to the railroad at Sandy, instead of the much longer journey to Salt Lake City.

The narrow gauge Wasatch & Jordan Valley line was completed between Sandy and the granite quarries in April 1873 and the first block of granite was moved by rail the entire distance to Salt Lake City. Granite continued to be moved by rail until that last block of granite for the temple was moved sometime in the winter of 1891-1892.

Although in theory, using a canal to move granite to the temple was a good idea, the reality and practically of completing such a project proved beyond the efforts of church leadership, as well as construction techniques of the period. It was a good idea that never came to a successful end. However, work on the canal as a source of irrigation water continued, and the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal was completed in 1882.


East Side Canals -- A Google Map of the canals along Salt Lake Valley's east side.


Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal


In the 1899-1901 time period, and because the East Jordan Canal (owned by the East Jordan Irrigation Company) took its one-sixth share of the flow of the Jordan River from a point farther upstream from where Salt Lake City's Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal took its supply, there were proposals for the city to use the East Jordan Canal to be expanded to include the flow of Salt Lake City water needs as well as the irrigation company's needs. It appears that in later years, the East Jordan Canal made a connection at its northern end, with the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal very near where the city's canal crossed over Big Cottonwood Creek. This connection would allow any water remaining in the East Jordan Canal to flow into the city's canal instead of being allowed to flow into Big Cottonwood Creek as waste water.

When John W. Young built his Salt Lake & Eastern Railway, branching off from his Salt Lake & Fort Douglas Railway at 8th South and McClelland Street, he followed the canal's east bank, south to the vicinity of Sugar House, where the railroad line turned eastward along Parley's Creek.

The Jordan & Salt Lake City Canal remains in place today, providing irrigation water for many user's along its path. The canal is in the open from the Jordan Narrows to 3300 South and 1300 East streets. From there it courses through the city north of 3300 South Street in a four foot diameter culvert under sidewalk or roadway or along its own right of way between houses. The same culvert also functions as a storm water overflow for Parleys, Emigration and Red Butte Canyon creeks. From North Temple and State Street, where City Creek adds its own flow, the water courses west under North Temple, until it returns to the Jordan River, after its long journey and detour.


September 17, 1879
"The Mayor presented a preliminary report from the city surveyor, of the approximate cost, taken from the cross-section notes, of a portion of the proposed canal to convey water to this city. Total estimate from the junction of the South Jordan Canal to the first workings of the old Deseret Irrigation and navigation Company's canal near Little Cottonwood, $84,656.70." (Deseret News, September 17, 1879)

November 28, 1879
"Be it resolved by the City Council of Salt Lake City, That for the purpose of increasing the water supply of said city, the corporation thereof shall proceed to construct a canal to convey water from the Jordan River into said city. Said canal shall be known as the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal, and be located as follows: Commencing at a point on the west bank of said river, where the waters of the South Jordan Canal are taken out, and running in conjunction with said canal to where its flume crosses said river, thence in a northeasterly direction to the first workings of the Deseret Irrigation and Navigation Canal Company's canal near Big Cottonwood, thence on the route of said canal so far as practicable, to Salt Lake City. The said canal shall be made twenty feet wide at the bottom, with banks sloping at an angle of not to exceed forty-five degrees, at the discretion of the engineer of construction, and of sufficient capacity to safely carry four feet in the depth of water." (Deseret Evening News, November 28, 1879)

(The South Jordan Canal served the water users of the west side of the Salt Lake valley, west of the Jordan River, and paralleled the Jordan River close to its west bank for approximately one mile before moving off in a northwesterly direction away from the river.)

"By act of Feb. 20, 1880, in Utah Laws, 1880, 55-56, amending the city charter, the city council was authorized to borrow $250,000 for the construction of a canal, tapping the Jordan at a point 23 miles south of the city, for irrigation purposes, thus releasing nearer and better sources of supply for domestic use. It was finished in 1881, at a cost of $200,000." (Bancroft, History of Utah, 1890, page 696)

March 22, 1880
The following comes from the March 22, 1880 issue of the Deseret Evening News newspaper:

The Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal -- A great many inquiries are being made among the inhabitants of this city, relative to the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal, the route to be taken from the Jordan River to this city, and the estimated cost of the entire work. We are enabled to give a few answers to some of the questions propounded, which may give partial satisfaction, but we are not in possession of all the facts, especially as relates to the cost of construction. The final estimates are not yet in, of the costs of the work, already finished, consequently there is but little on which to base a calculation of the whole, which at best, could only be an approximate.

The Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal commences about three miles below the old Camp Floyd Ford which, measuring along the river bank, is about nine miles from its source. From this point the canal follows along the Jordan for about a mile and a quarter, and after traversing a succession of bluffs, for about three miles, comes out upon the open flat, and keeps on in a north-easterly direction until it crosses the State Road a little north of Dunyon's. Thence it takes a northerly direction as far as Sandy. The railroad track is crossed between the Junction and Sandy. The proposed route then takes a northeasterly direction until it connects with the Deseret Irrigation and Navigation Company's old canal at Cottonwood. It follows this right through to this city. A great deal has been said about "running water up hill," and of the difficulties in the way of the building of the canal. We will endeavor to give an idea of the grade of the proposed aqueduct. The first seven miles the fall is 2-1/2 feet to the mile, after that it is 18 inches to the mile. At Sandy, where it is said the water cannot be taken "up hill" to the Cottonwood, the descent of 18 inches to the mile can be kept up all the way to the latter point, where there is a surplus fall of 19-1/2 feet. from there to this city the descent 32 inches to the mile, along the route of the old canal. The proposed length of the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal is 23 miles, 13 miles of which is out on contracts and the greater portion finished. The amount of money expended up to date in $23,600. The estimated cost of construction, from the Jordan to the Cottonwood, is thought will not exceed $60,000, and from there to Salt Lake City, as shown, the cost will be comparatively light, since the old canal can be utilized, without the necessity of making new excavations.

October 13, 1880
After being presented by the canal engineer, Jesse Fox, with a choice of two routes for the pending Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal, the city's mayor and city council selected the "upper" route. The routes presented included a "lower" route, being the same route "adopted and partially excavated by the Deseret Irrigation and Navigation Company and is generally known as the "Old Church Canal". The proposed "upper" route was approximately 40 feet higher. Both routes were reported as having the same cost of excavation and construction, but the upper route would serve an additional 30 city blocks, or 220 city lots. The upper route would have a greater expense of "fluming" to prevent seepage, but the total cost would be about equal to the cost of "settling claims to alleged vested rights to the old canal, avoiding or fighting law suits over portions of the canal now used as an irrigating ditch." (Deseret Evening News, October 13, 1880)

November 17, 1880
"In the year 1867, a company was organized, called the Deseret Irrigation and Navigation Canal Company, which was created a body corporate in law, and which built the canal now called the Lower Canal or the Church Canal, and acquired rights in relation thereto which are still valid in law and in justice. The right of way was purchased for a considerable part of the route, and stock was taken in the Company by many of our leading citizens. It is stated that when, by reason of the building of the railroad, some of the purposes for which the canal was constructed were abandoned, the people in the Mill Creek and Cottonwood region were permitted to use the canal for an irrigating ditch, with the understanding that when needed it was to revert to the use of the Company giving them the privilege. If they have used it for seven or eight years and imagine that by that use they have acquired legal ownership of the canal, we think they will find that they are mistaken." (Deseret News, November 17, 1880, editorial)

February 9, 1881
"The committee on construction of the canal reported that they deemed it advisable to adopt the upper route from Big Cottonwood to Wm. Casper's premises, a distance of about one mile, and assigned certain reasons for the change." (Deseret Evening News, February 9, 1881)

(The final route selected was the upper route between Big Cottonwood and Mill Creek, then the lower route along the old church canal from Mill Creek to Salt Lake City.)

June 15, 1881
"The water is now running in the canal and emptying into Big Cottonwood Creek. The excavation is completed to Kanyon Creek (Emigration Creek, about 1700 South), and as soon as the flume and chute for the drop near Casper's are completed the water will be turned into that potion between Big Cottonwood and Kanyon Creeks. The canal from Kanyon Creek to the city is completed, except a distance of about 100 rods, through a portion of which the right of way could not be secured except at a price which the committee, in justice to the Corporation, could not pay, and proceedings to condemn said land have been commenced in the Third District Court. Unless some unforeseen delay occurs, your committee cannot now see why the the water through the canal should not reach the city and be used for irrigation purposes by the latter part of July." (Salt Lake Herald, June 15, 1881)

(Naming the Canyons -- On August 22, 1847, at the weekly church meeting, Brigham Young named all of the creeks entering the Salt Lake Valley from the east. Starting at the northern end of the valley he called the first creek City Creek; the second was named Red Butte Creek; the third was christened Kanyon Creek - now Emigration Creek; and the fourth one, between Kanyon Creek and Mill Creek to the south, officially became Big Kanyon Creek, with the geologic defile through which it traveled aptly being referred to simply as Big Kanyon Creek Kanyon.)

June 16, 1881
The upper route was used for a distance of about 2-1/2 miles from Big Cottonwood to a point on the north side of the residence of William Casper (in the Mill Creek district). Then a drop section of 400 feet in length by way of a flume, taking the canal back to the lower route. By June 1881, this short drop section of 400 feet was what remained to complete the canal. (Deseret News, February 9, 1881; June 16, 1881)

(The drop section was at the point on the east side of Highland Drive at about 3650 South, where the canal turns westward for the short distance of 400 feet, to again parallel Highland Drive along its west side, with the canal heading in a more northwesterly direction.)

September 7, 1881
"The Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal is a success!!" (Deseret Evening News, September 7, 1881)

September 12, 1881
"The water in the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal is irrigating the First and Second Wards. All leakage along the canal has entirely stopped." (Deseret Evening News, September 12, 1881)

September 14, 1881
"THE CITY CANAL. - This morning, a NEWS reporter, accompanied by Watermaster Chas. H. Wilken, paid a visit to the works of the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal, which has now reached the lower portion of the 10th Ward of this city (about 6th East and 6th South). As considerable is being said about the canal, and certain individuals who know nothing tout it, are industriously engaged misrepresenting it, our readers will perhaps appreciate a few reliable facts gathered for their consideration by an eye witness. The canal as is well known, taps the Jordan River a few miles below the head waters of that stream, and from that point pursues a north-easterly direction by way of Sandy to Mill Creek, and thence to Salt Lake City. The ditch is four feet in depth, and 20 feet wide at the bottom, and is constructed on a grade of 19 inches to the mile. The work has been completed, the right of way secured and nearly all paid it, as far as the Tenth Ward and the waters of the Jordan are now flowing into the First Ward and are being used by the residents of that neighborhood for irrigation and milling purposes. There remains yet to be finished about two miles of aqueduct, before its contents empty into City Creek, according to the original intention. The capacity of the canal is such as will carry a stream four feet in depth (three feet being the medium), enough water to irrigate all the land laying west of it, from Canyon Creek (Sugar House) (Emigration Creek, about 1700 South) to the northern boundary of the city. This quantity can readily be secured, by raising four sections of the gate at the head of the Canal. At present, while the work of testing and is in progress, but one section is up, and even now a steady, uniform current over 12 inches deep, pursues its uninterrupted course a distance of 27 miles. The first outlet is a flume near the residence of Bishop L. D. Young, First Ward, where the water is now issuing, pending the further progress of the work northward. The only serious difficulty encountered, and the one over which so much breath has been wasted, is a certain piece of land this side of Mill Creek , between that ward and the farm of Mr. Oscar Young. In this vicinity, the soil is of such a character that considerable seepage has occurred, and this trouble has been augmented by muskrats and other burrowing animals. Special labor has been applied here, and the obstacle has been surmounted, a conclusive proof of which is the fact that the water now flows past and far beyond that locality. But little of the stream which leaves the Jordan is now wasted, and what slight leakage still occurs will be fully remedied in time, as the water gradually settles and solidifies the bed of the canal. It is a well known fact that among the uplands, or bench lands of this region, during the summer months, it takes time for the soil, which is very absorbent in its nature, to become properly saturated so as to allow water to pass freely along the surface. From the present terminus, the rest of the way through the city, the water will probably be conveyed most of the distance in concrete pipes." (Deseret News, September 14, 1881)

(The First Ward was bounded by 6th South and 9th South, and by 6th East and 9th East. The Tenth Ward was bounded by 3rd South and 6th South, and by 6th East and 10th East, and was directly north of the First Ward.)

November 16, 1881
The construction committee was asked why construction of the canal had not yet progressed within the corporate limits of Salt Lake City. (Deseret News, November 16, 1881)

December 14, 1881
The construction committee for the canal presented a report to the city council, showing that a total of $166,168.97 had been disbursed for the construction of the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal through November 30, 1881. (Deseret News, December 14, 1881)

May 3, 1882
As evidence that the canal had reached Third South, the residents of the Tenth Ward petitioned the city council asking that the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal be placed in a "flume" (culvert) instead of a bridge where the canal intersects Third South, with a bridge being very dangerous for pedestrians, especially at night. (Salt Lake Daily Herald, May 3, 1882)

July 12, 1882
"The Mayor stated that had just received the information that the waters of Jordan River, running through the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal, were emptying into City Creek." (Salt Lake Herald, July 12, 1882)

July 12, 1882
"The Canal. -- The water from Jordan through the Jordan and Salt Lake Canal flowed into the City Creek aqueduct east of the head gates on East Temple street last evening. The canal is practically finished, and to-day the people of the city will be reaping some of tho benefits from the investment of their money in this great enterprise." (Salt Lake Herald, July 12, 1882)

July 12, 1882
"The Canal. -- About 9 o'clock last night the waters of the Jordan and the waters of City Creek met, not voluntarily, it is true; but they met, through the Salt Lake and Jordan Canal. A foot of water been turned into the head of the canal, and there was still six inches at the spill. It took the water one hour and forty minutes to pass through the flumed portion of the canal. The mayor communicated the fact to the Council, and the members, after adjournment, all went to see it, looking at it by the aid of the firemen's candle or torches. Citizens also gathered at the spot, and everybody seemed to rejoice at the demonstration of the fact that the Jordan would run down hill." (Salt Lake Herald, July 12, 1882)

National Landmark

An American Water Works Association National Landmark

A paper presented at the Intermountain Section of the American Water Works Association Annual Conference, September 17, 1993, (revised 1998) Snowbird, Utah.

By LeRoy W. Hooton, Jr.

(LeRoy W. Hooton, Jr. retired in November 2007 after 49 years of service to Salt Lake City, including 28 years as director of public utilities.)

(Digital version; PDF; 12 pages; 152KB) -- (Mirrored without permission from


The Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal remains one of the most important water development projects ever undertaken by Salt Lake City. It allowed the City to enter into exchange contracts with local farmers who had appropriated for irrigation the waters flowing from the Wasatch Canyon streams along eastern Salt Lake County. These exchange contracts provide the City with up to 65,000 acre-feet of water annually of high quality drinking water, and have allowed the Salt Lake Valley to grow and prosper for over 100 years. The mountain streams were the City's only sources of water until the early 1950s when the Provo River Project was completed and the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake City began delivering water through the Salt Lake Aqueduct. The exchange agreement waters continue today to be the primary source of supply for over 400,000 people.

Today, the Canal continues to meet its purpose in delivering exchange water during the irrigation season, and is as important to Salt Lake City in 1998 as it was in 1882. This will continue into the future, as the canyon streams provide 60 percent of the City's water supply.

The 28-mile Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal traverses eastern Salt Lake County from a point north of the Jordan Narrows to South Temple and State Street in downtown Salt Lake City. In the beginning it was controversial; however, upon completion in 1882, the Salt Lake Herald called it "one of the greatest days in the history of Salt Lake City."

Early Attempts to Construct Canals

By the year 1860 most of the waters flowing from the various mountain streams were appropriated by the farmers for irrigation; Salt Lake City, as well as the farming community on both sides of the Jordan River, looked to the Jordan River for additional water.

The concept of utilizing Jordan River water within the Salt Lake Valley was long thought about, however, its elevation along the valley floor prevented its use for irrigation on the majority of the land. The only way to utilize the Jordan River was to divert it through canals at an elevation up-stream that would allow the water to reach the higher bench lands by gravity flow.

The water of the Jordan River was first diverted in 1850, but during the following 20 years, only small ditches were constructed to convey the water to the farmlands.

The following description of early plans to develop the Jordan River was taken from the 1903 Report by the United States Department of Agriculture, entitled, "Irrigation Investigation in Utah:"

"In 1854 a plan for a great navigation, power, and irrigation canal from Utah Lake to Salt Lake City was conceived and was formulated in a law passed by the Territorial Legislature. Although acted upon by the State Legislature, the construction of a canal never developed. The law contemplated one of the largest of the canal plans at that early day. Section 3 of the legislation reads: Said canal shall commence above the rapids in Jordan River, where a dam shall be constructed across said river of sufficient height to cause slack-water navigation to Utah Lake, and proceed as near the base of the mountains on the west of the Great Salt Lake Valley as practicable, to Great Salt Lake; and of sufficient depth and width for the transportation of boats drawing to 2-1/2 feet of water and 12 feet width of hull. There shall also be good and sufficient guard locks and locks for leveling, and waste gates, also large reservoirs with good and sufficient embankments to contain water for irrigation purposes, at all convenient points."

In 1860 a canal was planned which was to take the water from the Gardner Mill Race, one of the small canals built in 1850 on the alignment now occupied by the North Jordan Canal, but extending it farther west. The canal was started at that time and was extended from time to time along that alignment up until 1881, when, as the North Jordan Canal, it reached its present size.

As a result of numerous failures to convey Utah Lake water to the valley's farmlands, an irrigation-district law was passed on January 20, 1865. Under the direction of the County Court, this law allowed the people of any locality to organize themselves into a company and elect officers, levy taxes, build and operate canals.

On February 2, the County Court made an order organizing all of Salt Lake County lying east of the Jordan River into an irrigation district. Surveys were made providing for a canal 20 feet wide on the bottom, 3 feet deep, and covering 24,750 acres. This plan, like the others, failed. The real development of the Jordan Valley began in 1870, when the South Jordan Canal was begun and completed in 1875. In the meantime, the other canals on the west side were also being excavated.

During 1872 the present Utah and Salt Lake Canal, South Jordan and North Jordan Canals were begun through county aid to construction.

In 1878 the East Jordan Canal Company was organized and incorporated, and began constructing its canal to irrigate the land on the east side of the Jordan River.

Salt Lake City Seeks New Water Supplies

The municipal water needs of Salt Lake City forced the City Council to look at the Jordan River for an additional supply, and the idea was first suggested by Alderman Sheets in a City Council meeting of August 9, 1864. He noted that "In order to bring the waters of the Jordan River into the Salt Lake Valley, it was necessary to construct a canal at the northern edge of Utah Lake which had sufficient elevation to provide flow to the eastern boundaries of Salt Lake City."

On January 10, 1865 Brigham Young spoke of the beneficial results that could be accrued by irrigating and cultivating increased amounts of land. He said that "...the bringing of the waters of Utah Lake would be the means of sustaining a population in the Great Salt Lake County of 100,000 inhabitants."

On September 15, 1879 Alderman Raleigh discussed the subject of obtaining a major supply of water for the city. The subject was referred to a special committee of five to be appointed by the mayor. Their instructions were to examine the practicability of taking stock or interest in canals being constructed in the southern part of Salt Lake County, which were taking water out of the Jordan River. Also, they were to examine the feasibility of bringing East Canyon Creek located in Morgan County to the City by tunneling.

The committee reported to the mayor on October 21, 1879 that they had investigated the construction of a contemplated canal for conveying water from the Jordan River to the City. Further, they reported that, "...the past season has fully demonstrated the fact that the supply water from all sources to this city, (or) in any dry season, even when managed with frugality and distributed to its full capacity both day and night, is wholly inadequate ... for without water all efforts will be futile.

At the conclusion of the committee report, Mayor Little, Alderman Raleigh, and Jesse Fox, City Surveyor, were appointed to a committee to negotiate with land owners to acquire the contemplated canal right-of-way as recommended by the Council.

During the year of 1879 actual construction of the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal commenced, and it was completed in 1882.

The Benefits of the Canal

The completion of the Jordan and Salt Lake Canal paved the way for further water development. Relieving City Creek of supplying both the culinary and irrigation needs of Salt Lake City, it allowed the City to provide more culinary water within the piped City Creek distribution system that was constructed in 1876. Later in 1888 the canal provided the means for the City to enter into an exchange agreement with the Parleys Water Users. The City agreed to exchange Utah Lake water from the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal in turn for the use of the Parleys stream flow. This worked to both parties' benefit; the City gained the right to use the high quality mountain water, and the farmers were assured a firm water supply to irrigate crops during the late summer months and drought periods from the stored water in Utah Lake.

As the City's water needs continued to grow, in the 1890s the City planned for additional exchange agreements with the water appropriators of Big Cottonwood creek. To make additional exchanges the canal had to be enlarged to deliver more water from the Utah Lake-Jordan River. A Water Commission composed of J. Fewson Smith and W.E. Jacobs stated, "Upon the canal depends the solution of our water problem. Put into the condition suggested (improved and extended) it is capable of bringing nearly ninety million gallons daily for use of the City and exchange elsewhere. There is no doubt that from 40 to 50 percent of the Cottonwood stream may be obtained when once the canal's efficiency is established..." Subsequently, at the turn of the century the City entered into the first exchange on Big Cottonwood, with others to follow. With the construction of the Big Cottonwood Conduit, the first diversion from Big Cottonwood creek was made on February 5, 1907 when 35.9 [cubic feet per second] was turned into the conduit.

During the next 30 years, the City acquired nearly all the water in Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood and Mill Creek streams through the exchange process. In order to reach the higher ditches along the east bench, the City condemned its way into the East Jordan Canal, acquiring over 20 percent of the Canal's stock. The East Jordan Canal was extended from the Fort Union area to a pump plant built in 1923 at 6200 South above Highland Drive to lift water to the higher ditches irrigated from Big Cottonwood Creek.

Jesse W. Fox

The story of the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal would not be complete without telling about the human aspect of this water development effort.

Jesse Fox was the engineer who was responsible for constructing the Canal. His contribution to this project and many other canals during this early history of the Mormon settlement of the Great Basin deserves recognition.

According to his family history entitled, "The Life Of Jesse W. Fox, Sr.," by F. Y. Fox, he was born on his father's farm near Adams Centre, Jefferson County, New York on March 31, 1819. He joined the Mormon Church and moved to Nauvoo in 1844 joining the pioneer migration in 1849 to the Salt Lake valley. Learning surveying as an assistant to the County Surveyor, he was employed by the church in 1850 to survey city lots and farm allotments. Later he would survey for a railroad to Red Butte Canyon to bring foundation stone to construct the Temple; however, in 1852, the railroad idea was abandoned. Jesse Fox became County Surveyor on August 2, 1852 followed by being appointed Territorial Surveyor, which he vacated in 1876.

He became involved in the construction of the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal when the City decided to find a new source of water from the Jordan River. On August 17, 1879 a mass meeting was held in the Bowery on Temple Square, resulting in a decision to make a preliminary survey of a canal to tap the Jordan River at the Narrows. Surveyor General Fox was employed to make a survey and cost estimate. The proposed 25-mile canal was estimated to cost $280,000. A bond election was held to finance the canal in 1880. During the debate over the bond, the engineering ability of Jesse Fox became an issue. Opponents of the bond attacked him for his involvement in the failed canal from Little Cottonwood Canyon that was intended to carry the granite slabs to the Temple. Some members of the City Council opposed the canal, believing that if the canal was constructed, water would never flow through segments about 5 miles southeast of the City. Ultimately, a bond election was held and approved on April 5, 1880, with five to one in favor. The City Council hired Jesse Fox to construct the canal.

The canal was completed and water flowed from the diversion at the Jordan Narrows to Eagle Gate on July 12, 1882. Despite his critics, he must have been pleased to read the words of the Salt Lake Herald:

"The water from the Jordan and Salt Lake Canal flowed into the City Creek aqueduct east of the head gates on East Temple Street last evening. The canal is practically finished, and today the people of city will be reaping some of the benefits from the investment of their money in this great enterprise. ...(We) commend Mr. Jesse W. Fox, Engineer, his skill, having the manhood to acknowledge his business and the Herald regards this as one of the greatest days in the history of Salt Lake City."

During the span of his career, Jesse Fox was the Chief Engineer for all five major canals in Salt Lake County. He did the early survey work on the present Weber/ Provo Canal through the Kamas Bench that would later become a key feature of the Provo River Project. He surveyed the early waterworks system in City Creek Canyon in 1872, establishing the diversion, settling tanks and 4 miles of cast iron pipe serving the city's downtown business district.

Jesse Fox left his mark on early water development in the west. His engineering legacy helped shape the history of the Salt Lake Valley.

Utah Lake Pumping Plant

An integral part of the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal is Utah Lake. The lake, situated in Utah County, covers 93,000 acres at compromise level and provides the water storage necessary to meet the late season irrigation needs of the farmers. It is a fresh water lake; however, due to certain springs and high evaporation rate the lake contain total dissolved solids ranging from 600 to 1500 ppm.

The Jordan River is the outlet of Utah Lake, and flows in a northerly direction to the Great Salt Lake. The Jordan River is nearly flat in grade, which with construction of a dam at the Jordan Narrows, allows the storage of water in Utah Lake. It appears that the first dam in the Jordan River was constructed in 1859 by Feramorz Little and others to irrigate land on the west side of the river.

According to the 1903 U.S. Department of Agriculture Report entitled "Irrigation Investigations in Utah," Salt Lake County constructed a dam at the Jordan Narrows in 1872. During the next spring the county court of Utah County asserted that the lake had risen, and it was suggested that the two county courts meet to resolve the problem. Apparently, no resolution was forthcoming, and the dam was washed out. According to the records of the court of Salt Lake County, "...the head gates washed out, being helped by persons unknown." The issue of a dam in the Jordan River continued to be a point of contention between the two counties. The dam was rebuilt in the spring of 1874.

The landowners around the lake continued to complain about the dam and that it flooded their property. Their complaints were investigated by the county court of Salt Lake, with findings that the dam had no effect on the elevation of water in Utah Lake. In 1880, the dam was raised provoking stronger outcries from the Utah County landowners. After several years of dispute, a committee of prominent citizens, who established a compromise elevation of 4,515.799 feet City datum, made an arbitration in 1885. This compromise level held for nearly a century, when after the 1983-86 flood period, a lawsuit settlement in 1985 established a new compromise level at 4489.0455 above sea level.

In order to draw water from Utah Lake when it is below compromise, a pumping plant was constructed during the turn of the century. The plant, located at the outlet of the lake on the Jordan River, originally consisted of four pumps. In 1905, the fifth pump was installed, followed in 1907 by the sixth pump. Shortly thereafter, with the permission of the court, the seventh pump was installed. To accommodate the pumps, two new 175-kilowatt step-down transformers and related equipment were installed. Concerned about meeting its exchange agreement obligations, the City installed a 130 horsepower emergency gasoline engine. According to the "1907 City Engineer's Report", the Utah Lake Pumping Plant was the largest pumping plant in the United States, capable of delivering 700 cubic feet per second, or 452 million gallons per day.

As in the past, the Utah Lake Pumping Plant, continues today to be an important component of the City's water system, feeding water to the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal and the East Jordan Canal to meet exchange agreement obligations.

The Canal During the 20th Century

During the 20th century the canal became even more important. The City's population continued to grow, demanding more water. The City entered into more exchange contracts with the canyon water owners of Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood and Mill Creek. The importance of the canal was stressed by A. F. Doremus, Engineer Water Supply, in the "1907 City Engineer's Report," in which he pleaded for monies to replace the old wooden flumes and bridges along the canal with suitable concrete structures. "When the canal fails, the city's right to use of the mountain water ceases, and restoration of the use of mountain water is contingent on the restoration of the canal flow." He further added "... no more profitable expenditure of the public money can be made."

As the City grew, homes encroached on the open canal, replacing the farmlands. By 1914, the City began replacing the canal with buried concrete conduit. The "1917 City Engineer's Report," described the placement of 270 feet of 3x6 foot reinforced concrete conduit through the property near Fifteenth South Street at a cost of $4.11 per linear foot.

Charles W. Wilson, Water Department Superintendent (1951-1980), recollects that during the depression a major effort was made to clean and restore the canal to its original capacity of 150 cubic feet per second. In 1933, the Civil Works Administration (CWA), using 17 sight seeing buses, transported workers to the canal in two shifts per day to cut trees and hand dig the canal. Equipped with mattocks, the workers reconstructed the canal from the Jordan Narrows to the Big Cottonwood Creek spill, widening the bottom of the canal to 18-1/2 feet and shaping the sides at a 1-1/2 slope on each side. Survey crews went ahead of the workers to establish the grades.

Beginning in the 1950s the Salt Lake valley's population moved to the suburbs. During the next 40 years most of the land between Salt Lake City and Draper became developed. Homes and businesses have built up to the canal's right-of-way owned by the City in fee. Operating the canal in an urban setting has become more difficult as the population has encroached on this water conveyance facility. The City's obligation to deliver exchange water has not lessened since that first exchange agreement in 1888 and major improvements are planned to upgrade the canal during the 1990s.


On August 10, 1991, the Canyon Rim Chapter, Sons of Utah Pioneers, dedicated a granite rock monument that recognized the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal. The Monument is atop the canal (1250 East) in Sugar House on 2100 South Street.

Two years later, the American Water Works Association recognized the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal as an American Water Landmark. This designation places the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal among other famous national landmarks that have contributed to the nation's water supply development. The designation was published in the October 1993 issue of AWWA MainStream. The construction of this water facility demonstrates the efforts of the early pioneer settlers and their determination to survive in the harsh desert environment of the Salt Lake Valley where the annual precipitation is less than 16-inches, requiring a firm water supply to grow crops and build a city.


The Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal is one of the most important water development projects ever undertaken by Salt Lake City. However, as time has passed, it has become only one of many. The City's formation of the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake City in 1934 to build the Provo River Project added a major source of stored water. The City's purchase of the artesian basin in Murray and deep wells drilled hundreds of feet below the ground further augmented the City's water supply. Future water will be developed through the Bonneville Unit of the Central Utah Project. Notwithstanding these other supplies, the Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal, continues today, by virtue of the exchange agreements as the corner stone of the City's water supply. The resulting supply of high quality Wasatch mountain water remains the most desirable of all the City's water sources.


LeRoy W. Hooton, Jr. "Salt Lake City's Ownership and Rights to Water in City Creek," May 1975

LeRoy W. Hooton, Jr. "The Jordan and Salt Lake City Canal," September 1993