Trans-Canyon Pipeline

The Trans-Canyon Pipeline was built in the late 1960’s and supplies all of Grand Canyon National Park’s drinking water. [photo credit: NPS]

A pipeline? What a grand idea!

When thinking about the Grand Canyon, the images that come to mind typically involve majestic views, rim-to-rim hikes, and soaring birds with “America the Beautiful” crescendoing somewhere in the distance. Maybe daredevils, stuntmen and arguably crazy people are involved. For some of the more juvenile among us, thoughts might even relate to Joe Dirt somehow. Just me?

At any rate, I’m confident not many people associate the Grand Canyon with pipelines, and yet, that very thing exists in our country’s second most visited national park:

The Trans-Canyon pipeline transports water from Roaring Springs near the North Rim to the more populated South Rim. This engineering marvel was constructed between 1965 and 1970 and features 16 miles of aluminum pipe with 700 horizontal bends and 1200 vertical bends. All of the materials had to be flown in via helicopter and lifted into place.

If you’ve ever thoughtlessly chugged cool, clean water at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim Visitor Center while 100-degree heat beat down you, you now know how it got to you, and you should feel terrible for being so thoughtless. In all seriousness, it’s truly amazing what was accomplished here.

However, it’s not all rainbows and roses when discussing this pipeline. It’s more than 20 years past its expected lifespan. Breaks and leaks are common. The cost to fully replace the pipeline is estimated to be upwards of $150 million, which happens to be more than seven times the annual budget for the entire park. Last year, 2800 feet of the pipeline was replaced, but that leaves another 76,400 feet still in need of replacement. However, those figures assume replacing the aging Trans-

Canyon pipeline as it exists is the best option. Some alternatives have been presented and are being considered. No matter what, it’s clear this pipeline is on its last legs after more than a lifetime of valuable service that saw more and more visitors every year able to experience the natural wonder of the Grand Canyon.

To you, Trans-Canyon Pipeline, I raise my glass of pipeline-delivered ice water and toast a life well lived, and when you finally do meet your end, however that may come about, I will not pour one out for you. That’s wasteful.

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