City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 27, 2017

March 27th

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part VIII – Water Infrastructure

9:30 a.m. Another great Coriolis effect band of clouds and rain that stretches from central Canada to New Mexico sweeps over the canyon. This is the second in three days, and it rains continuously overnight and into the morning. The canyon freezes overnight. Except for a single gnat, insects are absent. A lone robin and chickadee calls from the thicket far from the road. Some plants respond, but most canyon trees continue their wait for spring’s true warmth. A lone river birch below picnic site 3 blooms, but along the stream, many small birch shots have bloomed and extended small leaves. Service berry bushes are among those that thrive despite the early spring cold. They have bloomed and in the last few days have grown one to one-and-one-half inch leaves. The forest understory is greening first. Whether beneath Box Elder or Gambel’s oak trees, small sucker shoots are blooming with leaves. Their mature parents stay dormant. Near mile 0.1, buds on an unusual tree swell and prepare to open. When sap surged up its grey trunk and branches, the wood’s skin has turned a dull orange. The rain floods the canyon with a pleasing earthy smell.

The events of the last week reveal the pattern of early spring in the canyon. Plants respond primarily to the lengthening of daylight, but insects are waiting for overnight temperatures above fifty and daytime temperatures in the sixties. Days alternate between sun and cold nourishing rain with an overall pattern of increasing temperatures, but an early heat wave fools the insects into an early exit from winter’s hibernation. All wait for the dominate forest trees to swell their buds and to deploy this year’s leaves.

The last few days have also given me a new appreciation for the few water seeps and springs in the first mile of the canyon (January 20th). They are signs of the larger sub-surface migration of water from the surrounding canyon walls and beneath the Gambel’s oak forest. Refreshing rain falls on the high ridges and leeches through the high sandstone layers picking up minerals, and these nutrients then seep underneath the earth to the stream below. Along the way, forest roots dip below to sip the mineral rich broth to obtain the necessary building blocks of life.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 27th, 1842, he sees birches and pines reflecting light as they wave. He watches two fledgling hawks and an eagle. On March 27th, 1853, he notes flowering hazel. On March 27th, 1859, he notes alder trees are in bloom. On Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 28th, 1858, he sees a flock of shelldrakes, a flock of ducks, two dippers, and two herring gulls.

* * * *

The third era of utilization of City Creek Canyon was water infrastructure development. As previously noted (Dec. 27th), City initially developed infrastructure in the canyon between 1870 and the early 1900s. Construction began in 1872 with the installation of an enclosed piped water main up City Creek, dug by City prison labor (Cater, 94). Three enclosed take-off points were developed that went to the business district, Central City, the low Avenues below 6th Avenue, and the Ensign Peak 20th Ward. The “high-line” went from a head gate in City Creek at 5030 feet in elevation to a reservoir in the high Avenues and provided water to the high Avenues district. The “mid-line” went from a head gate at 4712 feet to the low Avenues and Central City districts. A second head gate at 4676 feet went to Capitol Hill and west-side districts. The “low-line” went from a head gate at 4579 feet to serve the business district (Hooten, 21-26; Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 27, 1903). Two take-offs in City Creek from the main pipeline still serve Capitol Hill and the high Avenues. The take-offs are at westbound water line trail at picnic site 4, mile 0.5 at the site of the old Twentieth Ward aqueduct head gate, and a southeast bound line at the red bridge on the south side of the road at mile 0.9, the site of the old mid-line headgate. In 1915, the City completed construction of the 5,000,000 gallon reservoir at the up-canyon east end of Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 2, 1916).

* * * *

On March 27th, 1920, the snow depth at the High Line station in City Creek was 17 inches (Salt Lake Telegram). On March 27th, 1900 in order to increase the City’s water supply, the City Board of Public Works approved the bid of Moran Construction to install a 30 inch iron water main from City Creek Canyon for $61,854 (Salt Lake Herald).

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