City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 6, 2017

February 6th

Filed under: Stream, Weather — canopus56 @ 9:44 pm

The Little Creek

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5:30 p.m It is grey and overcast in the west, but a forecasted rainstorm has not arrived. After another day reaching in the low fifties, even the snow left along shade canyon-bottom road is consolidating. In the snowpack, the thick layer at the bottom from early January has turned to ice, and by kicking a snow in the upper layer laid down in late January, its condensation into metamorphosed snow and slush is seen. But still the deer and elk have not returned. Just before sunset somewhere hidden behind the west ridge, the snow has briefly broken through the clouds. Its light is diffuse, and the brightness of light in the canyon bottom increases several magnitudes, but from no apparent direction. The light has a soft orange glow that colors the snow, and after about fifteen seconds, it is gone.

City residents commonly perceive City Creek Canyon creek as a small stream or brook. Webster’s ambiguously defines a brook as a small stream, a stream as a small river, a creek as a regional stream, and a river as a flowing body of water that empties into a lake or sea. Other informal definitions are that a brook can be stepped across, a creek jumped across, a stream waded across, and a river swam across. I can never recall City Creek in a state where one could jump across it. But this little creek transports a surprising amount of water.

The creek that we see today is only a faint reminder of its historical flows. In December through February, City Creek flows above Guardhouse Gate at near its mean minimum monthly flow of 460 acre-feet per month (14.8 acre-feet per day or 7.5 cubic-feet per second) or the equivalent of flooding about one and three-quarters ten acre blocks in the city’s business district with one foot of water (Natural Resources Conservation Service). But this is only about one-third of the total natural flow. In the 1880s, the City developed a water infrastructure in the canyon and has consistently removed 10,000,000 gallons of water per day first at mile 1.5 and now at mile 3.4 (Hooten). As a result City Creek’s flow is only one-third of its natural volume. Ten million gallons per day is 30.7 acre-feet per day or about 921 acre-feet per month (29.7 acre-ft per day or 15.4 cubic feet per second). In other words each day, City residents take sufficient water from City Creek to cover three of the eight ten-acre downtown business district blocks in a foot of water. Thus, current flow (7.5 cubic-feet per second) is only one-third of the total (460/(460+921). The maximum flow in June 1989 was 8358 acre feet per month, 270 acre feet per day, or 136 cubic feet per second. The That was enough water from City Creek alone to each day flood one foot of water on every city block between State Street and 700 East and South Temple to 400 South. The City reports 322 cubic feet per second during the 1983 flood as the maximum recorded daily flow ever recorded (Salt Lake City Dept. of Public Utilities 2017), or if sustained for one day, enough to flood sixty-six of Salt Lake City’s ten acre blocks. City Creek is only one of four canyons that feed into the city limits.

In the 1880s, there were several industrial water mills and plants in Memory Grove area, but as the City took more water for culinary uses, the flow ebbed and the mills closed (Watson). Modern residents do not perceive the range of City Creek’s flow due to time, but the Euro-American colonists of 1847 also did not perceive how much water could come out of the canyon because of their geographic bias. They came from the east where what was commonly accepted as a brook, a creek, a stream, or a river was completely different than in the lands “beyond the one-hundredth meridian”, as Wallace Stegner put it, of longitude. That led them to make a fateful decision, that would have many future repercussions, to locate the business district of their new city on the delta of City Creek’s banks.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 6th, 1853 and during a thaw, he observes partially unfolded apple buds. On February 6th, 1855, he records a -14 degree Fahrenheit temperature.

On February 6th, 1895, Mayor Robert Baskin published a statement on city affairs and the proposed city budget (Salt Lake Tribune). He outlined various improvements to the City Creek water system, bringing springwater from Emigration Canyon, and proposed in the future to build a large reservoir in City Creek Canyon. This was to alleviate unsanitary water during spring runoff:

Ever since the erection of the present waterworks system, for a few weeks each spring freshet [sic], and as often as there occurs a heavy rain or cloudburst, the inhabitants have been compelled to drink and use for culinary purposes very muddy, unwholesome and unpalatable water. This ought to not be allowed to continue. (id).

Mayor Baskin also proposed to erect a new electric power plant at the mouth of City Creek. He reported on a seventy-five percent reduction of water borne illness, in part from prior water system improvements, including in City Creek:

In 1893, the number of deaths from cholera infantum was 71; in 1894, 43; in 1893 from diphtheria, 24; in 1894, 7, in 1893, from scarlet fever, 25; in 1894, 6.(id).

As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune on February 6th, 1994, in the 1850s, Brigham Young excommunicated his bee-keeper and City Creek toll-gate keeper, Frederick Gardner, because Gardner quit his job with Young (Salt Lake City Tribune, Feb. 6, 1994).


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