Green Canyon and Clean Drinking Water

Digging waterline trenches in Cache Valley, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives.
Digging waterline trenches in Cache Valley, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives.

If you’ve ever hiked or driven up Green Canyon near the City of North Logan, you’ve probably noticed the dried-up streambed. It wasn’t always dry, however. In fact, if you turn back the pages of history you’ll find water, and the story of why the stream no longer flows.

In the 1920s several families living in North Logan contracted meningitis from drinking contaminated canal water. The townspeople had tried drilling wells, but each time the water emerged from the ground warm and metallic. Farres Nyman, an early resident of North Logan recorded that during winter her father would chop holes in the frozen Logan-Hyde-Park Canal to retrieve drinking water. Her mother would then “take a little strainer and strain out the wrigglers and boil our drinking water.”1 One of the people infected was Utah State Agricultural College engineering professor Orson W. Israelsen. His bout with the illness left him completely deaf.2 The meningitis outbreak motivated the community, and especially Israelsen, to find a clean source of water for North Logan.

With the help of his students at the Agricultural College, Israelsen explored Green Canyon. Sometime in 1928, the group located a spring five miles up in a narrow adjacent canyon (now called Water Canyon). From 1928–1934 Israelsen sent students, often on snowshoes, to gather flow data from the spring. He determined that the spring’s average discharge of around 88 gallons per minute was sufficient to meet the needs of the community.3

The spring was already spoken for by a local power company and the Little Flower Mine, who owned rights to the water jointly, but in 1928, the power company decided not to re-file. And so on October 1st of the same year (when the water rights came up for renewal) North Logan resident Robert Burns Crookston camped out near the state offices in Salt Lake City and claimed the water for North Logan before a representative for the Little Flower Mine had a chance to re-file.4

Concrete equalizing reservoir for North Logan Waterworks at the Mouth of Green Canyon, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives
Concrete equalizing reservoir for North Logan Waterworks at the Mouth of Green Canyon, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives

With the water now theirs, residents of North Logan decided to incorporate as a town. In 1934 town leaders laid out their plan to construct a waterline to bring the spring water in Green Canyon to their homes in the valley. Orson W. Israelsen was put in charge of the project. He estimated it would cost $24,000$35,000 to build the waterline. To defray costs, the city sought help from the Federal Government. Through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Uncle Sam contributed $32,850 while North Logan City raised another $28,800. Surveying took place during November 1934 and men began digging trenches in Green Canyon during the winter of 1935.5 Israelsen described the work:

There was no digging equipment at that time, a pick and shovel and crowbar were used. When they came to a level, a plow or root digger was used, which was drawn by a team of horses. This loosened the soil, which the men lifted out of the trenches with a shovel… They were interested in their town welfare and did the job on the 5 miles of pipe in the canyon and 8 miles in the valley. What a joy it was to turn a tap and get a clear cold drink of pure water6.

Despite the difficult work, the men made good time. By June 1935 water was flowing from the spring in Green Canyon to residents in North Logan.

Not much has changed since 1935. The spring continues to send clean water to homes in North Logan, just as Israelsen and the WPA workers hoped it would. Until 1984 North Logan City used the original pipe. However, severe flooding during the winter of 1983–84 washed out sections of the old pipe, requiring installation of new pipe.7 The new pipe is even more efficient, capturing all the spring water that once tumbled down Green Canyon spreading life. These days the streambed is full of dusty hikers and mountain bikers instead of water. And, the cottonwoods and willows that made Green Canyon so green have dried up, reminding us of our history and the cost of clean drinking water.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Brad Hansen

Footnotes:

1.

    1. Jesse L. Embry, North Logan Town: 1934-1970. (North Logan, Utah: North Logan City, 2000), 25.

2.

    1. “Biographical Sketch,” Orson Winso Israelsen Papers, (1894-1966), (Available at Special Collections and Archives, Utah State University), accessed April 25, 2012, http://library.usu.edu/specol/manuscript/collms31.html

3.

    1. Lydia Thurston Nyman and Venetta King Gilden, Miscellaneous Papers on the History of North Logan, Utah. (Published by Authors: 1998), 60.

4.

    1. Don Younker Oral History, interviewed by Jessie Embry, 1998, 6.

5.

    1. Thurston and Nyman, 61.

6.

    1. Ibid, 61.

7.

    1. Al Moser Oral History, Interviewed by Daniel Franklin and Sean Harvey, February, 2012.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy Utah State University Special Collections and Archives
Text: Brad Hansen

Sources & Additional Reading

Water-Liquid Life

Spring Runnoff in Cottonwood Creek near Sandbagged Home From "Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead," Unified Fire Department Chief Mike Watson Courtesy Cottonwood Heights City
Spring Runnoff in Cottonwood Creek near Sandbagged Home
From “Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead,” by Unified Fire Department Chief Mike Watson
Courtesy Cottonwood Heights City
It’s springtime in the Rockies, and Utah’s northern rivers are engorged with liquid life- and have been for what seems like months now. After a winter of record snowfall, the spring heat and a miniature monsoon season have raised our local waters to levels not seen in decades. During this exceptional seasonal runoff, it’s easy to forget that we still live in the second-most arid state in the Union. Nonetheless, this seasonal plethora of the wet stuff is an ardent reminder that, even here, it is water we Utahns have to thank for our most prestigious landscapes and the diversity of flora and fauna that call these places home.

It has, in most cases, taken quite a lot of time, though. Consider the Great Salt Lake: Utah’s most iconic landmark. It’s a remnant of prehistoric Lake Bonneville-itself the pluvial product of slow glaciation and rainwater collection. Thousands upon thousands of years of evaporative sun exposure, though, shrank Lake Bonneville and changed the local climate and ecosystem into what we have today, a salty inland sea implanted within an arid, Mediterranean climate. Though deprived of its acreage- and being immensely saltier than its predecessor- The Great Salt Lake supports an incredibly diverse and highly complex ecosystem. Concocted by the mixture of ancient salts and fresh water provided by the Jordan, Weber, and Bear Rivers, the wetland ecosystems on the fringes of the Great Salt Lake play host to millions of migratory birds each year that are travelling along the Pacific Flyway. Without these oases, the diversity of Utah’s waterfowl-and wildlife at large- would dwindle drastically.

One cannot speak of water’s effect upon Utah’s landscapes without singing the praises of the wondrous redrock canyons that dissect our state’s southern reaches. The force of water upon the high desert of Utah’s allocation of Colorado Plateau is intermillenial, hydrological poetry. Ancient Jurassic and Cretaceous seas deposited layer upon colorful layer of various sediments before heat, pressure, and the recession of shorelines turned them to stone. Water then went back to work within a new climate upon an old geography with rare but violent torrents of flashing floods that sliced ever deeper and more intricate cleavages into the sandstone. I remember visiting one particularly beautiful slot canyon with my wife. The fossilized wave action we spotted above the rim was preserved below as well with streaks of sediment mismatched and displaced into a beautiful kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and purples. Water’s work was not finished here, though. Dispersed along the distant trail into the best parts of this remote canyon, there were desert riparian jungles of small cottonwoods, mosses, and ferns that harbored ephemeral pools dotted with water striders and even the occasional canyon tree frog.

Street Flooding Box Elder County 2017 Courtesy https://dem.utah.gov/2017/03/31/news-release-gov-herbert-declares-state-of-emergency-for-february-flooding/
Street Flooding Box Elder County 2017
Courtesy https://dem.utah.gov/2017/03/31/news-release-gov-herbert-declares-state-of-emergency-for-february-flooding/
Water is a fickle beast, though- crucial to maintaining life but behaving without regard for its endeavors. The same forces of hydrology that created the Great Salt Lake, our richly diverse wetland ecosystems, and the stunning desert landscapes we love to explore can likewise wreak havoc upon our daily lives. Consider the recent deluge in Cache Valley. Several weeks ago, our northern valley was inundated with precipitation, leaving some families stranded in their low-lying homes with no access to the nearest road. A friend of mine who runs a canoe rental business told tale of making deliveries to homes so that people could commute from the end of their driveway to their front door. Perhaps no other force of nature can be so frustrating yet so gratifying; so plentiful yet so fleeting. It’s a wild thing, water. It is a miraculous ubiquity that, even in the driest places, leaves an indelible mark upon the landscape and the lives that inhabit it.

For Wild About Utah this is Josh Boling

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright Cottonwood Heights City
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Water Week, Eli Robinson, USU Water Quality Extension program, May 8, 2017, http://wildaboututah.org/utah-water-week/

Water Properties, Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, Nov 17,2014, http://wildaboututah.org/water-properties/

Pando is Dying

Pando the world's largest discovered organism at Fishlake in central Utah Image courtesy USDA Forest Service J Zapell, Photographer
Pando, the worlds largest discovered organism at Fishlake in central Utah
Image courtesy USDA Forest Service
J. Zapell, Photographer

Pando, a sprawling aspen colony and the world’s largest discovered organism, is dying. On the lip of Fish Lake in Central Utah, Pando germinated from a seed the size of a grain of sand thousands of years ago. Now he sprawls over a hundred acres with approximately 47,000 trunks. The combination of the trunks and the extensive root system has Pando weighing in at around 13 million pounds. This giant male, which might be one of the oldest living organisms on the planet, is also prone to disease, wanted by humans to burn in stoves, and targeted by ungulates as a food source. And although Pando consists of literally tons of mature, geriatric trees, there aren’t many young volunteers replacing old trees that die.

Dr. Paul Rogers, a Utah State University scientist who’s trying to save Pando, explained the problem to me while we searched for new growth and deer scat on Pando. He said it would be like depending on a room filled with 90-year-olds to repopulate and save the human race—it’s possible, but not likely.

The age of the current mature trees that make up Pando is about 110-120 years. These ages are gleaned from a tree coring device called a borer. This information combined with others findings show that Pando took a turn for the worse about when Anglo-Americans showed up in central Utah. As they hunted apex predators like bears, wolves and mountain lions, populations of ungulates such as deer and elk increased. White settlers also added other ungulates—sheep, cows, and horses—to the ecosystem. Both domestic and wild ungulates feast on young, nutrient-filled Aspen trees. Which makes it so Pando can’t recolonize himself.

I asked Rogers if the reason he wanted to save Pando was because it was the superlative organism—the oldest and biggest on the globe, and he was quick to correct me. He questions the accuracy of age estimates for Pando based on current available science. And he believes there may even be larger aspen colonies, but we just haven’t found them yet. We know about Pando partially because a paved road goes right over his spine and partially because he almost touches Fish Lake. Rogers says he’s interested in saving Pando because the existence of this huge organism supports many dependent species and it likely holds lessons for sustainable cohabitation of this planet. As an afterthought he added, “If the colony dies on our watch, we’re doing something majorly wrong.”

There is hope for Pando. Aspen do two things really well: die and repopulate. In recent years, efforts have been implemented to preserve Pando. Paradoxically, some sections have been clear cut or burned to stimulate growth. Both techniques have produced positive results, but not enough. It seems the simplest solution to this problem might be the best—protect it from foraging ungulates. Eight-foot deer fences now encircle parts of Pando. Outside the fences, there are no new trees. Inside, however, green shoots can be seen pushing up from the dry ground.

This is Russ Beck for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy USDA Forest Service, J Zapell, Photographer
Text: Russ Beck

Sources & Additional Reading

Pando-(I Spread), Fishlake National Forest, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/fishlake/home/?cid=STELPRDB5393641

Pando-The World’s Largest Organism, Holly Strand, Wild About Utah, Sept 3, 2010, http://wildaboututah.org/pando-the-worlds-largest-organism/

Utah State Tree – Quaking Aspen, Utah’s Online Library, http://onlinelibrary.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/tree.html

WESTERN ASPEN ALLIANCE is a joint venture between Utah State University’s College of Natural Resources and the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, whose purpose is to facilitate and coordinate research issues related to quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) communities of the west. http://www.western-aspen-alliance.org/

DeWoody J, Rowe C, Hipkins VD, Mock KE (2008) Pando lives: molecular genetic evidence of a giant aspen clone in central Utah. Western North American Naturalist 68(4), pp. 493–497. http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/aspen_bib/3164

Grant, M., J.B. Mitton, AND Y.B. Linhart. 1992. Even larger organisms. Nature 360:216. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v360/n6401/abs/360216a0.html

Grant, M. 1993. The trembling giant. Discover 14:83–88. Abstract:http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.3398/1527-0904-68.4.493

Habeck, R. J. 1992. Sequoiadendron giganteum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [Accessed September 2, 2010].

Mock, K.E., C . A. Rowe, M. B. Hooten, J. DeWoody and V. D. Hipkins. Clonal dynamics in western North American aspen (Populus tremuloides) Molecular Ecology (2008) 17, 4827–4844 http://etmd.nal.usda.gov/bitstream/10113/27665/1/IND44127848.pdf

Utah Water Week

Join us for Utah Water Week We all live in a watershed. Help protect our water!Join us for Utah Water Week
We all live in a watershed. Help protect our water!


Utah Water Week runs from May 7th through the 13th, and is a perfect time of year for each of us to consider the importance of water in our lives.

In a dry state like Utah, where irrigation is important for maintaining our crops, gardens and lawns, we tend to focus on how much water we have. It’s easy to forget that the quality of this water will actually determine how (or if) we can use it.

We all value clean water to drink and use around the home, but those aren’t the only reasons we need clean water. Swimming in our lakes and reservoirs is only safe if the water is free of pathogens. Irrigation water with high salt concentrations is unusable. Fish and other aquatic life are the most dependent on clean water, needing water that is the right temperature, has sufficient dissolved oxygen and is free of toxins and other pollutants.

We’ve made great progress in this country in reducing water pollution – particularly in treating municipal and industrial waste. We’re still improving those treatment methods but the biggest problems these days are water pollutants that don’t come from a single source.

Fertilizers, pesticides, personal care products, and motor oil are just a few examples of substances that can cause serious harm when they reach our waters. Excess fertilizers that are washed into our lakes contribute to floating rafts of harmful algae, green cloudy water, and low oxygen levels. A single quart of motor oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of water. Improper disposal of medicines and personal care products are literally medicating our waters.
It’s always cheaper and easier to prevent water pollution than to clean up dirty water. Luckily, there’s a lot of pretty simple and straightforward actions we can all take to help keep our waters clean. In fact, a lot of Utahns are already helping out.

Homeowners are using more environmentally-friendly products and are composting their kitchen waste rather than sending it down the garbage disposal to a WWTP or a septic system. Gardeners and farmers are taking care to use no more fertilizer than their plants need and are implementing new irrigation methods that reduce runoff into streams and lakes. Pet owners are picking up after their pets and disposing of the waste properly. Pharmacies are partnering with our municipal offices so we can return medicines for proper disposal rather than dumping them down the drain. Municipalities are keeping their roads clean and finding innovative ways to capture and treat storm water. Farmers are reducing polluted runoff from animal operations, and across the state landowners and land managers are restoring streamside vegetation that helps intercept pollutants.

This water week, take a look around you and think of ways you can help keep our water pollutant-free. Together, our small actions will have big impacts on keeping our water clean.
For more ideas, visit our website: extension.usu.edu/waterquality.

Remember…..water is life and quality matters.

This is Eli Robinson from USU’s Water Quality Extension program…

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Utah Water Week, http://extension.usu.edu/utahwaterwatch/Calendarandevents/waterweek
Text:     Eli Robinson

For Information On Tagging:

Utah Water Week, USU Water Quality Extension Program, 2017, http://extension.usu.edu/utahwaterwatch/Calendarandevents/waterweek

USU Water Quality Extension Program, 2017, http://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/

USU Water Quality Extension Program, 2017, http://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/protect_your_water

Water Quality, The USGS Water Science School, USGS, https://water.usgs.gov/edu/waterquality.html