City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 30, 2017

March 28th

Filed under: Geology, Glacier lily, Raptor — canopus56 @ 4:04 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part IX – Water infrastructure

Noon. Yesterday’s storm passes and today the sun returns. Between mile 0.4 and 0.8, there are three Glacier lily (Eythronium grandiflorum) fields on the west side of the road. Two are on ledges above the road, but the third is on the road embankment above picnic site 6. These are delicate yellow lilies with drooping stamens, called Adder’s Tongue by Thoreau (Thoreau’s Journal, June 21st 1852 and June 22nd, 1855). Next to these is a small hollow with that ends in a pile of boulders, and a small spring seep falls over one of the rocks that is made of Van Horn’s “Tertiary Conglomerate No. 2” (December 24th). Over geologic time, two one foot cave-like cavities have been worn into one of the boulders by this small intermittent drip. This pattern is repeated on progressively larger scales in other nearby rock formations. Above the Red Bridge at mile 0.9, Chimney Rock, which is made of the same material, weeps water from the yesterday’s rain, and the formation itself is covered with small pockmarks of one to three feet in diameter. Turning around and looking at the high west wall of the canyon, the thick horizontal cliffs of Tertiary Conglomerate No. 2 are also broken by many small cave-like depressions. Water seeping from inside the wall freezes during the winter, and then in the spring large flakes cleave off that generate shallow caves over eons. High over these walls, two large, unidentified raptors soar. The parking lot and road are full again with people.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 28th, 1852, he hears a flock of geese. On March 28, 1853, he sees tree sparrows, eleven ducks, and a Hen Harrier. On March 28, 1857, he sees twelve butterflies. On March 28, 1858, he sees hazel tree blooming. He notes the differences between men who are in the outdoors and those that stay indoors. On March 28, 1859, he notes that greens of lichen and mosses contrast with brown earth.

* * * *

Water infrastructure is not always hard construction projects; it also can mean patrols of a watershed, like those adopted in City Creek in the nineteenth century, to exclude polluters. The impetus for the water system improvements beginning in the 1870s was public health concerns over water borne disease. From the 1870 through 1917 and even with the availability of pure water in the canyon, the City’s residents suffered repeated epidemics of water borne diseases like typhoid fever (Cater). In a 1918 study, it was estimated that 14,000 cases of typhoid fever occurred in Salt Lake City prior to 1904, and between 1904 and 1917, the City’s water borne communicable disease rate was among the worst in the country (Cater, 94 ftn 5). On January 31st, 1894, Water Superintendent D.S. Griffin reported to Mayor Baskin, apparently to reduce water borne disease, that in City Creek about 9,000 feet of rip-rapping had been repaired and about 15,000 feet of the creek bed had been cleared (Salt Lake Herald). As previously noted (Feb. 6th), on February 6th, 1895, Mayor Robert Baskin outlined various improvements to the City Creek water system, in part, 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. (Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 6, 1895).”

He also 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).”

The pressure of water borne diseases enforced a social consensus that City Creek Canyon needed to be free of grazing or dead livestock and to be patrolled regularly to assure violations of water protection laws were remedied. Evidence of that consensus can be seen in a Dec. 2nd, 1883 editorial comment by the Salt Lake Herald:

“THE HERALD is of the opinion that City Creek canyon should be held sacred by the city for the benefit of its inhabitants, first as reservoir which furnishes their water supply, and second as a resort for their recreation and health. Any movement of the City Fathers in this direction is sure to receive the unqualified approbation of all good citizens. (id, emphasis in original).”

The earliest documented implementation of that consensus occurred one-hundred and twenty-five years ago. On December 28th, 1892, Salt Lake City Water Department Patrolman J.B. O’Reilly, who was “stationed in up City Creek canyon . . . [to] keep the stream clear of obstructions and to prevent the killing of game in the canyon” noted that “The canyon has become a regular haven for game since the ordinance went into effect . . .” The ordinance appears to refer to a ban against hunting in the canyon. (Salt Lake Herald). On January 19th, 1905, City Land and Water Commissioner Ben D. Luce reported that City Creek was regularly patrolled to prevent livestock from grazing in the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). “City Creek is patrolled daily and no sheep or livestock of any kind allowed in the same.” On December 18th, 1907, Deputy Water Commissioner Matthews impounded seven cows found illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). Eventually, a permanent watershed patrol was established. On January 14, 1913, Superintendent of Waterworks C. F. Barrett proposed the formation of a canyon watershed patrol to police all watershed canyons, including City Creek, for water polluters (Salt Lake Tribune).

* * * *

On March 28th, 1915, weather bureau officer A. A. Justice and the City’s Canyon Patrolman Carl Hammond reported that City Creek due to a low snowpack will not provide much water during the runoff season. They took two-hundred and ninety-six snow depth measurements using a plunger-like snow drill (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram on March 31). Later, on April 4th, 1915, they reported the details of their March 22nd to March 25th snow-camping survey (Salt Lake Herald). On March 28, 1900, the Princeton Mine in City Creek Canyon reported the discovery of good grade ore (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 28, 1898, Dr. M. H. Faust of the forestry association made the following recommendations: turn pioneer square into a park; to reforest City Creek Canyon and turn it into a park using trees from Liberty Park; and that City residents on Arbor Day gather in City Creek and plant trees (Salt Lake Herald).


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