Deseret News

Many of Utah’s aging canals have reached the end of their engineering life and can be rehabilitated to not only save water, but provide recreation and transportation access via the Utah Trail Network.

Rep. Rosemary Lesser, D-Ogden, detailed her vision before members of the Utah Water Task Force on Monday, emphasizing that high priority, high value areas could be selected as a “win win,” to accomplish key goals in Utah’s fast growing Wasatch Front.

She specifically touted the success of the 17-mile Murdock Canal Trail in Utah County, which is 8-feet wide and runs through seven cities overlooking the valley.

The trail took 18 years to complete and is enjoyed by close to 300,000 people in Pleasant Grove alone, Lesser said.


“Our interest is not having a trail to nowhere,” she emphasized, but to transform the canals as part of the Utah Trail Network to serve as a vital transportation corridor promoting opportunities to enjoy the outdoors via walking, biking or jogging.

A state government inventory shows there are more than 900 canals in Utah, some of which are in major need of infrastructure repair.


Not all of the canals, certainly, would be candidates, but Lesser wants a feasibility study and coordination with the Utah Department of Transportation and state transportation commission to identify a handful of viable, high priority candidates that would not only benefit from repairs and covering, but be part of a regional transportation system.

Land ownership, easements and canal company rights

Lesser said the prospect of working through the identification of suitable candidates will be complicated, but she believes a coordinated effort will result in the twin goals of providing additional transportation avenues as well as water savings.

Any sort of canal covering transformed into a trail would necessarily involve right of way acquisitions, negotiations over easements, and ensuring canal companies’ rights are protected, especially in terms of liability.

Some task force members had pointed questions when it came to liability, but Lesser said state agencies and the transportation commission would ideally come up with five candidates as a starting point where the process would not be so thorny.

Promise for the Jordan River

Soren Simonsen, executive director of the Jordan River Commission, said he sees exciting prospects for the Jordan River via transforming canals into recreational assets.


“We’ve actually been talking about this very matter down at the Point of the Mountain, where the Jordan River is diverted into at least a half dozen canals and it really changes the dynamic of the river. We’ve had conversations in conjunction with the development of the Point, the former prison site.”

Simonsen said some of those canals could be converted as part of the Utah Trails Network.

There’s been an issue with abandoned canal corridors that could become part of a robust recreational asset, he added.

“We will watch that bill with great interest.”

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