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 inner canyon for the next 50 plus years, while protecting natural and cultural resources, maintaining the visitor experience, and reducing maintenance requirements.

 
A helicopter is transporting an excavator in Grand Canyon National Park. Canyon walls and the Colorado river are visible in the background.
A helicopter delivers construction equipment in Grand Canyon National Park for the Transcanyon Waterline project.

NPS/ SEAN GUNN

Project Status

Initial construction activities were focused on establishing contractor and helibase support facilities, the South Rim water treatment plant, two new raw water tanks, and the laydown and staging areas in the Grand Canyon Village area on the park’s South Rim.

With the South Rim construction well underway, some of the inner canyon construction activities for the project have begun. Heavy-lift helicopters delivered 58 sling loads of supplies and equipment to various landing zones in the inner canyon Oct. 16-19, 2023. The equipment and supplies are staged at various locations within the construction areas.

On Dec. 1, 2023, sections of the Bright Angel and Tonto Trails and the Havasupai Gardens Campground were closed to begin work for sliplining pipe. The sliplining, a trenchless rehabilitation method of installing a smaller pipe through an existing pipe, occurred in the Bright Angel section of water pipeline between the South Rim and Havasupai Gardens. Construction workers replaced the distribution system at Havasupai Gardens, and upgraded the water distribution lines at Mile-and-a-Half and Three-Mile Resthouses. Work wrapped up and the Bright Angel Trail and Havasupai Gardens Campground fully reopened April 15, 2024. The Tonto Trail also reopened on April 15, but there are detours in place in the vicinity of the Plateau Point Trail and Tonto Trail West trail junction. A segment of the Plateau Point Trail to Tonto Trail West is open for Tonto Trail users while the Plateau Point Trail is closed. Construction workers will either escort hikers through active construction areas, or signs will be used to direct trail users by the detours.

The NPS announced expected Construction-related trail and campground closures on Sept. 18, 2023, and a revised schedule on Nov. 9, 2023. The NPS announced the on-schedule reopening of trail and the Havasupai Campground for April 15, 2024. Expected visitor use area closures include:

  • Plateau Point Trail from Havasupai Gardens to Plateau Point, a segment of Plateau Point Trail to Tonto Trail West is open for Tonto Trail users: April 15, 2024-June 20, 2024
  • Plateau Point Trail from the Tonto Trail West junction to Plateau Point : Oct. 12, 2023-March 14, 2025
  • Bright Angel Trail from Havasupai Gardens to Silver Bridge: Dec. 2, 2024-March 14, 2025
  • Bright Angel Campground: Dec. 19, 2024-May 9, 2025
  • Silver Bridge: Sept. 15, 2025-Dec. 31, 2025

The water filling station will be available for use at Havasupai Gardens after the Bright Angel Trail reopens on April 15, 2024. The water filling stations at Mile-and-a-Half and Three-Mile Resthouses are projected to be available by mid-May.

While Bright Angel Campground will remain open during most of 2024 for public use, from April 4, 2024-December 18, 2024, both large group sites and three (out of 31) small group sites will be used for Transcanyon Waterline project needs and unavailable for public use. Reservations for the remaining small group sites are available on www.Recreation.gov.

The construction areas and schedule are subject to change. Intermittent trail delays of up to 30 minutes in the vicinity of construction work may occur as necessary throughout the project. More information about the construction closures is available in the Public FAQs section below. Every effort is being made to schedule work to reduce impacts to visitors and residents, but near-term impacts are inevitable.

The Transcanyon Waterline project contract was awarded on March 14, 2023.

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.

 
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    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.
     

     
    Electrical lines by a stone building.
    Overhead electrical lines from Havasupai Gardens to Plateau Point will be replaced with three-phase power into conduit underground. The lines will be mounted with the waterline from Plateau Point down the steep inner canyon walls and resume underground to Phantom Ranch for the 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 project 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 approximatley 3 miles of waterline and upgrading approximately 3 miles of electrical supply line 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 is the Transcanyon Waterline project expected to finish?
      The construction is projected to wrap-up in October 2026; however, delays could impact the overall schedule.

      How much is the Transcanyon Waterline project going to cost?
      The NPS awarded a $208 million construction contract on March 14, 2023, to Stronghold Engineering, Inc. of Perris, Calif.

      How many construction staff will be working on this project?
      There will be multiple construction staff working on this multi-year project. The contractor will utilize their own staff plus hire subcontractors to work on the project.

      Why did it take so long to publish a schedule of closures since construction began earlier this year?
      The Transcanyon Waterline project is a large and complex infrastructure project with construction site areas on the South Rim, along the existing water pipeline route, and at various inner canyon locations. Since being awarded the construction contract on March 14, 2023, Stronghold Engineering Inc. (SEI) began construction on the necessary support facilities on the South Rim that they'll need to execute the construction for the water delivery system infrastructure and waterline. SEI staff have simultaneously planned and coordinated administrative and logistical tasks like hiring subcontractors and ordering materials with lead times, to develop the sequencing of activities for the rest of the project.

      Where can I go to find the most up to date information for trail closures and impacts? 
      Current Grand Canyon National Park closures are published on the park’s operational updates webpage. More information about the construction-related trail and campground closures and the project are available on the Transcanyon Waterline project webpage. Visitors requesting information on inner canyon campground closures should visit the Backcountry Information Center’s (BIC) reservations webpage on rec.gov or by calling the BIC at 928-638-7875. Commercial use authorization (CUA) permit holders can contact the permits office for questions related to their CUA permit at e-mail us

      Will I be able to hike the Tonto Trail, from east to west or vice versa, during the Plateau Point Trail closure that's scheduled from April 15 to June 20, 2024?
      Yes. Tonto Trail detours will be in effect during this time while work is being conducted in the vicinity of the Plateau Point Trail and Tonto Trail West junction. Either construction workers will direct trail users through active construction zones, or signs will be used to direct trail users by the temporary work zones.

      Do the Bright Angel Trail closures include the Colorado River Trail?
      Yes, the segment from the River Resthouse at Pipe Creek to the Silver Bridge is also known as the Colorado River Trail or River Trail, and the closure will end before Silver Bridge at the River Trail and Silver Bridge junction. The River Trail between Silver Bridge and the South Kaibab Trail will be open and so will the Silver and Black Bridges.

      Will more water stations or toilets be available along the South Kaibab Trail while the Bright Angel Trail is closed?
      Additional facilities will not be installed along the South Kaibab Trail, but park staff are planning to increase the frequency of maintenance to compost toilet facilities. There is no potable water along the South Kaibab Trail and visitors should plan on bringing all water with them for the duration of their hike.

      Are trail closures possible at other times and dates?
      Yes, the construction crews will be conducting preparatory tasks for upcoming waterline work, which may result in intermittent delays of up to 30 minutes.

      Why is Plateau Point Trail closing for so long?
      The waterline is routed near the Bright Angel Trail from the Rim past Havasupai Gardens and along the Plateau Point Trail. Construction crews will need longer time working along the Plateau Point Trail area, as they’ll be transitioning from sliplining the water line to replacing it and installing underground three-phase power. Temporary power and water pipe must first be installed to provide services during the permanent replacement of the water pipe and underground power.

      Where in the Phantom Ranch area will there be closures?
      Most of the ongoing construction in the Phantom Ranch area will be in NPS administrative areas near existing water utility facilities by the Silver Bridge to the Bright Angel Creek bridge. The construction site in the Phantom Ranch area will be marked and closed to the public. Bright Angel Campground will be closed Dec. 19, 2024-May 9, 2025, and the Silver Bridge will be closed Sept. 15-Dec. 31, 2025.

      Coordination is ongoing for other operations in the Phantom Ranch area and any visitor use impacts will be released and added to our project webpage when they’re available. Additional unanticipated construction work or delays have the potential of extending closure periods. A complete list of current park closure information is available on the Grand Canyon Operations Update web page and project related closures are available on the Transcanyon Waterline project web page.

      Will I still be able to do my river trip exchange during construction closures?
      Yes, the South Kaibab Trail will remain open for regular use to include river trip exchanges. The construction contractor is coordinating with commercial river companies to facilitate planned river trip exchanges.

      Will visitors on river trips still be able to use Pipe Creek Beach if there’s a closure in the area?
      Park and contractor staff members are coordinating to allow for administrative access as well as ingress or egress for river trips via Pipe Creek Beach. Park staff will coordinate details with the commercial river companies.

      Will people still be able to do Rim-to-Rim hikes during the construction closures?
      Yes, visitors should still be able to complete Rim-to-Rim hikes during the regular season of approximately May 15-October 15. Most of the trail and campground closures are planned while the North Rim is closed, but the NPS encourages visitors to check the park website and verify if there are any updates to the closure schedule. The South Kaibab Trail and Black Bridge will remain available during the closure period.


      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: April 16, 2024

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