Transcanyon Waterline

 

The Transcanyon Water Distribution Pipeline, known as the Transcanyon Waterline (TCWL), is a 12½ -mile water pipeline constructed in the 1960s that conveys water from the Roaring Springs source on the North Rim to the Havasupai Gardens (formerly known as Indian Garden) pump station and ultimately to the South Rim. It provides the potable water and fire suppression for all facilities on the South Rim as well as some inner canyon facilities in the Cross Canyon Corridor including over 800 historic buildings.

 
A park staff member uses a jackhammer to create enough clearance around a water pipeline to conduct necessary repairs.
A park maintenance crewmember uses a jackhammer to create enough clearance around the Transcanyon Waterline to safely weld and repair the pipe. The break, which occurred in September 2022, is one of many recent breaks resulting in increased water conservation measures.

NPS Photo.

Transcanyon Waterline Project

Why is a new waterline needed?
The National Park Service (NPS) is replacing the TCWL as it is beyond its expected useful life, experiences frequent failures, and requires expensive and continuous inner canyon maintenance work to repair leaks.

Since 2010, there have been over 85 major breaks in the TCWL that have each disrupted water delivery. The breaks are expensive to repair, occur in locations that pose dangers for responding employees, and negatively impacts the visitor experience. The cost for a single waterline break often exceeds $25,000. Access to the inner canyon, where breaks occur, is by trail and helicopter only.

Many times when there's a break in the water pipeline, distribution lines, or pump houses the park needs to implement water conservation measures. Park leadership makes conservation decisions based off the available water in the storage tanks. Visitors may notice the impact of the measures during a dining experience using disposable plates and cutlery, or with the closure of some shower and laundry facilities. A break typically takes 3-5 days to repair, but conservation measures may be in effect longer if there are multiple or back-to-back breaks.

The new water delivery system will meet water service needs at the South Rim and in the Cross Canyon Corridor for the next 50 plus years, while protecting natural and cultural resources, maintaining the visitor experience, and reducing maintenance requirements.

 

Project Status

The Transcanyon Waterline project is currently in the contracting phase. Going forward, a project schedule will be approved by the NPS after a contract is awarded. Every effort will be made to schedule work to reduce impacts to visitors and residents, but near-term impacts are inevitable. We understand there's great community interest in this project. We thank you for your patience as we carry out these important projects. Updates on the status will be provided here as soon as possible.

Grand Canyon Related Construction

There are projects underway at the park to support the overall design for the modernized water delivery system. The following projects are sequenced for completion either prior to or shortly after kick-off of TCWL project construction.

  • The installation of a substation, part of another project effort, will meet all modern code requirements of the increased electrical capacity to service all park facilities and structures for current and future operational needs.
  • The Phantom Ranch Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) is undergoing short-term improvements to keep the WWTP functioning through the duration of the TCWL project. The work is expected to be finished in early 2023.
 
A graphic with a view of a cross section of the Grand Canyon with Transcanyon Waterline project areas.
A cross section of the Grand Canyon featuring an overview of the planned Transcanyon Waterline project areas.
 

Infographic titled: Transcanyon Waterline (TCWL) Project 

On the far left is a black column about 1/5 the width of the illustration. The column header reads: Grand Canyon Planned Water Delivery System Infrastructure Projects. Below the header is a legend that displays 4 symbols to indicate, Bright Angel Creek, Transcanyon waterline replacement, Bright Angel Trail Slipline, and Transcanyon waterline slipline. Below the legend is a National Park Service arrowhead logo.     

The main background illustration shows a cross section of Grand Canyon. Buildings, water pipelines, pump stations, and water treatment plants are labeled. 

The cross section begins on the South Rim, upper left, at an elevation of 6,860 feet/2,093 meters, then descends right to Mile-and-a-Half Rest House at an elevation of 5,729 feet/1,748 meters, then descends right to Three-mile Rest House at an elevation of 4,748 feet/1,449 meters, then descends right to Havasupai Gardens at an elevation of 3,800 feet/1,160 meters, then descends right and down to the Colorado River, at an elevation of 2,480 feet/756 meters. The "Silver Bridge" is shown crossing the Colorado River in the center of the illustration. 

From the river, canyon walls begin their ascent up to the North Rim, beginning at Phantom Ranch at an elevation of 2,546 feet/776 meters, then ascends right to Cottonwood Campground at an elevation of 4,080 feet/1,244 meters, then ascends right to Manzanita Rest Area at an elevation of 4,600 feet/1,402 meters, then ascends right to Roaring Springs Pumphouse at an elevation of 5,200 feet/1,591 meters, then ascends right to the North Rim at an elevation of 8,241 feet/2,512 meters. 

Superimposed over the cross section illustration are a six location-based panels that list, through bulleted points, the work and improvements to be done at each location. 

Panel 1, on the far left, South Rim Support Facilities:  Constructing Contractor Facilities, Constructing Helibase Building, Constructing Helicopter Landing Pad. 

To the right of Panel 1 is Panel 2, South Rim Water Treatment Plant work: Constructing Water Treatment Plant. Constructing Raw Water Tanks. 

Below Panel 2 is Panel 3, Inner Canyon Improvements; Resthouses: Sliplining Bright Angel, Upgrading Rest House Water Distribution.   

Below Panel 3 is Panel 4, Inner Canyon Improvements; Havasupai Gardens and Silver Bridge: Upgrading Havasupai Gardens' Distribution System, Replacing Transcanyon Waterline Pipe, Installing 3-Phase Power, Repairing Silver Bridge. 

Returning to the top of the illustration, to the right of Panel 2 is Panel 5, Inner Canyon Improvements; Phantom Ranch: Installing Bright Angel Creek Intake, Consturcting Water Treatment Plant, Installing Booster Pump, Replacing Distribution System, Upgrading Electrical System. 

To the right of Panel 5 is Panel 6, Inner Canyon Improvements; Manzanita to Roaring Springs: Sliplining Transcanyon Waterline from Roaring Springs Pumphouse to Cottonwood Campground, Upgrading Manzanita Rest Area and Cottonwood Campground Water Distribution System, Upgrading Point-of-Intake and Installing Point-of-Use Treatment.

Finally, point to point construction, or replacement work, is indicated by colored lines referenced in the legend. From the South Rim to Havasupai Gardens, adding a slipline is indicated, From Havasupai Gardens to Phantom Ranch, replacing the Transcanyon Waterline is indicated. From Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood Campground, Bright Angel Creek is shown as the water conduit. From Cottonwood Campground to Roaring Springs Pumphouse, adding a slipline is indicated. 
 
Electrical lines by a stone building.
Overhead electrical lines from Havasupai Gardens to Phantom Ranch will be replaced with buried electrical lines as part of the Transcanyon Waterline project.

NPS Photo.

Project Highlights

The project includes upgrading, replacing, or constructing temporary infrastructure for the installation of the waterline in a sequenced construction timeline of approximately 2023-27.

The TCWL project will relocate the water intake for the water delivery system to the South Rim from Roaring Springs to Bright Angel Creek near Phantom Ranch. This location will greatly reduce the length of the TCWL and eliminate a portion of the current waterline north of Phantom Ranch that experiences the most frequent failures. The water intake at Roaring Springs will continue to provide water to the North Rim.
The program includes:

  • Constructing an auxiliary hangar, helicopter landing pad, and contractor support area at the park helicopter base.
  • Constructing a 1 million-gallon per day water treatment plant at the South Rim and a smaller water treatment plant at Phantom Ranch.
  • Replacing the water distribution system at Havasupai Gardens.
  • Replacing existing waterline and upgrading approximately 3 miles of electrical supply line from Havasupai Gardens to Phantom Ranch.
  • Replacing approximately 3 miles of pipe from Havasupai Gardens to Phantom Ranch.
  • Constructing a water intake system and pumping station in the Phantom Ranch area.
  • Replacing the water and electrical distribution systems at Phantom Ranch.
 
A piece of water pipe sits on a table while a uniformed park ranger shows it to the National Park Service Director.
NPS ranger Katie Brown shows NPS Director Charles Sams a section of the Transcanyon pipe that was removed due to a recent break in the waterline while the director receives an overview of the Transcanyon Waterline project during a visit to Grand Canyon National Park in August 2022.

NPS Photo.

Design Considerations

The overall design of the water delivery system involved about 10 years of tests, analyses, reviews, and coordination to meet the various public health, state, and federal standards, environmental laws, historic, and NPS resource management policies.

With pipeline breaks being the main cause for water delivery failures, selecting the right materials and equipment was a critical decision in the design process. The original pipe material is aluminum, which is easier to haul into the inner canyon due to its weight to size ratio. The material; however, also contributes to the degradation of the waterline and frequent structural breaks due to the extreme environmental conditions of the inner canyon. A break typically runs longitudinally with the pipe and repairing it usually consists of cutting out and replacing an 8-foot section of aluminum pipe.

The project team balanced the complexity of the inner canyon’s terrain and environmental conditions with constructability while mitigating the impact to cultural and natural resources in making their material selection. They identified flex-steel pipe to replace the aluminum because of the balanced tradeoff between weight to durability and the strength of the material.

 
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    Project FAQs


    When do you think the work will begin?
    There are many factors that can impact the start date for the TCWL project. After a contract is awarded, the selected contractor will have logistics, like hiring subcontractors and purchasing materials with lead times, to consider when developing their project schedule. Most of the work will likely begin in 2024 or in early 2025. The timelines will become clearer after a construction contractor is selected and develops a project schedule.

    Will there be any areas closed to the public?
    The NPS anticipates that some areas or trails will need to be closed during construction. After a contract is awarded, the NPS will approve a project schedule from the contractor. Every effort will be made to schedule work to reduce impacts to visitors and residents, but near-term impacts are inevitable. Any closures will be communicated to the public.

    Is the NPS considering the staffing needs for the new or additional facilities?
    Management is looking into different options to ensure necessary licenses and training is completed for the existing, and any additional, staff and positions needed at the water facilities.

    Is the NPS going to transport chlorine gas to Phantom Ranch for the treatment process?
    No, the NPS will be using chemical and mechanical treatment processes; however, there will be no chlorine gas involved.

    Will the old pipeline be removed when the waterline is replaced?
    There will be one section of pipeline, between Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood, that will be left in place. It was discovered during the compliance process that removing that section of pipe would cause further damage and may cause negative impacts to natural resources.

    What are some of the system upgrades for Havasupai Gardens or the water stations?
    The proposed project plan is to upgrade the distribution system and provide year-round water at the Mile-and-a-Half and Three-Mile Rest Houses along the Bright Angel Trail. The water distribution system at Havasupai Gardens will be upgraded including replacing the water stations and fire standpipes.

    How has the design aesthetic been considered for new infrastructure at Phantom Ranch?
    The facilities will not replicate the historic buildings. The design team consulted with the State Historic Preservation Office and designed them to fit into the aesthetics of the area.

    Will engineers need to evaluate the applicable bridges before they begin construction?
    Assessments for the bridges are completed.

     

    Project Documents

    Review the Transcanyon Water Distribution Pipeline Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact documents on the National Park Service's Planning, Environment and Public Comment site (PEPC). PEPC is an online collaborative tool dedicated to facilitating the National Environmental Policy Act/National Historica Preservation Act process in conservation planning, environmental impact analysis, and informed decision-making.

    Additional historical documents, articles, and information related to the Transcanyon Waterline can be obtained by contacting the Grand Canyon Museum Collection or checking the NPS Electronic Technical Information Center.

    Some project and historical documents still reference Havasupai Gardens as Indian Garden. On November 10, 2022, the name was officially changed from Indian Garden to Havasupai Gardens. The Havasupai people have actively occupied this area since time immemorial before the land’s designation as a National Park and until the park forcibly removed them in 1926. The renaming from Indian Garden to Havasupai Gardens is out of respect for the undue hardship imposed by the park on the Havasupai people.

     
    An historic black and white image of water supply train transferring water from the train to water supply tanks.
    First supplemental domestic water supply train in the summer of 1961 unloading water to the South Rim storage tanks. Twenty cars equated to about 204,000 gallons of water. The Santa Fe supplied water daily by train from 1901-32, and then as needed until the late 1960s.

    NPS Photo by Blaisdell.

    TCWL History

    Early Water Delivery to the Park

    Potable water was transported to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park by train from 1901-32. A variety of water source options were investigated over the years, which included hauling water from a reservoir in Flagstaff, collecting runoff from the San Francisco Peaks and piping it in, to sourcing it from the Colorado River. However, the options weren't feasible due to water rights, legal reasons, or excessive costs.

    Pumps were installed at Havasupai Gardens in the 1930s to pump water from there; however, in the 1950s the pumps at Havasupai Gardens could no longer meet the South Rim demand and bringing in water by train resumed to supplement the supply. As visitation increased, this option could no longer meet the demand and it was determined that a new source of water was needed.

     
    A contracted construction crew and equipment crushing rock in preparation for installation of the Transcanyon Waterline in 1965.
    A contracted construction crew crushes rock in preparation for installation of the Transcanyon Waterline at Grand Canyon National Park in 1965. The site is located between Roaring Springs powerhouse and Roaring Springs.

    NPS Photo.

    Finding a Water Source

    Roaring Springs was determined as the best water source option based off existing studies to learn more about the water sources north and south of the Colorado River. Roaring Springs is an underground water supply at an elevation of approximately 5,200 feet on the North Rim and receives a higher level of annual moisture with a slope that's angled toward the canyon to be more easily collected.

    Constructing the Waterline

    Construction began in January 1965, and most of the equipment used was specifically designed to support the project. The rest of the work was done manually. The waterline from Roaring Springs to Havasupai Gardens was constructed of 6" and 8" aluminum pipe. The line connected at Havasupai Gardens to be pumped up via an iron pipe, previously installed in 1932, to the South Rim.

     
    A section of a foot bridge showing damage resulting from a flood in 1966 that broke the water pipeline and washed away most of the bridge.
    The trail and approach to this North Kaibab Trail bridge was completely washed away by the 1966 flood event, exposing a section of Transcanyon Waterline. The bridge and pipeline were constructed in 1965.

    NPS Photo.

    Flood of 1966

    The project was nearing completion a year later when the unthinkable happened – a 1,000-year flood – 15 inches of rain overwhelmed the Inner Canyon. The flood waters carried away trees, boulders, and sections of new aluminum pipe. A survey conducted following the flood determined that approximately 40% of the project was destroyed or missing. The high-water mark from the flood is recorded on the walls of the Phantom Ranch Ranger Station.

    The project originally cost $2 million. The price tag to rebuild increased to $5 million, and construction resumed in late 1967.

     

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      Last updated: January 24, 2023

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