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Earth Notes: The Grand Canyon Transcanyon Waterline

D. Cockrum/NPS

Visitors to Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the Grand Canyon probably noticed a flurry of activity this spring as a helicopter flew in a drilling rig and other large pieces of equipment.

The National Park Service is preparing to replace the park’s aging Transcanyon Waterline, and crews were boring test wells to see if Bright Angel Creek can be used to supply drinking water to the South Rim.

The aluminum aqueduct was built in the late 1960s. At the time, it was the largest and most complex project ever undertaken by the Park Service. The pipe carries water from Roaring Springs below the North Rim 15 miles to the bottom of the canyon and across the Colorado River. The water is then pumped up to the South Rim—the sole source of water for the Grand Canyon’s most heavily visited and populated areas. It also supplies the cross-canyon trail corridor and firefighting efforts.

But, the waterline was designed to last only a few decades. It’s rapidly falling apart, and often ruptures dozens of times a year, causing severe limits on water use.

The new plan, still in the design phase, would shorten the pipeline by funneling water from Bright Angel Creek to Indian Garden and up to the South Rim. But the cost of the project could exceed a hundred million dollars

Park entrance fees have been increased, and the Interior Department is looking at other possible ways to pay the steep price tag of supplying visitors to Grand Canyon with the most vital resource.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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