History of Kanab's Water Supply

The History of Kanab's Water Supply
The history of water conservation and diversion in Kanab is a dramatic story of continuous struggle and fluctuating periods of hope and despair. Few if any other communities have experienced more discouragement in providing the all-essential water for irrigation and culinary purposes.

The original source of supply of water was Kanab Creek, with a flow entirely insufficient for large-scale agriculture. From the beginning of her history, Kanab was faced with the problem of obtaining water from supplemental sources or curtailing her growth.

It was not long before the pioneers made a reservoir at Big Lake, far above the creek. They also dug a ditch from the creek about where the present dam site is and subsidiary ditches from it to the farms and to the town.

During the spring after the first reservoir was built, water from the creek was used until it began to diminish in the latter part of May; then the water which had been accumulating in the Big Lake reservoir was turned into the creek. To make this diversion possible, the settlers constructed a log and dirt dam northwest of the settlement in 1871.

District ditches were made to carry the water to every part of town. But the supply was not plentiful. The water would be turned into ditches each morning to allow the people to dip it up into barrels for culinary purposes. The water that was not necessary for this use flowed on down the city ditch and made its way to the reservoir where it was stored for the purpose of irrigating fields.

After much hard labor and loss of water, a dam was made at the "Rocks" opposite the mouth of Three Lakes Canyon. Here the water was held back and ran over a rock which the pioneers thought extended completely across the canyon. However, when floods came they washed around the rock. Next a fill was put in a short distance south of Crocodile, and from this point a ditch was run down the west side of the creek to Three Lakes, where it was flumed across the east side of the creek and then run south along the creek to a little below Young's Point where it emerged from the flume and was carried by the Long Ditch to town. However, regardless of constant watching and guarding, the fill and the ditch were continually being washed out or undermined by gophers. Finally, the condition became so serious that another dam was built lower down on the stream.

For some time all water used for culinary purposes had to be hauled 1 and a half miles from the creek above town. It was hauled in barrels on "lizards." Those who could not go for their supply paid from 15 cents to 25 cents per barrel to those who made hauling water a profitable business. The water was almost thick with red sand and had to be settled before it could be used. Clothes washed in it retained a pinkish hue. The water was so precious that people tell how carefully it was used. The same water, some of them relate, was used for bathing, washing clothes, scrubbing floors, and finally for watering plants.

During the building of the dam between 1898 and 1899 ingenious citizens of Kanab, headed by Thomas Chamberlain, formed a Pipeline Company and made a settling pond at the north end of town and piped water to the homes by means of wooden pipes. This made a division between irrigating and culinary water. This was not completely satisfactory. E.D. Woolley and H.E. Bowman piped water from a spring in Hog Canyon sometimes in the nineties. At this time they constructed their first water cistern which was later abandoned and used for a Lion's Club meeting house. In 1997, this building was torn down to make room for the construction of a new hospital. The big problem with the wooden pipe water line was kids would drill a hole in the pipe with their pocket knives to get a drink of water, and then would put a plug in to stop up the hole. This caused the water line to have too many leaks.

The Kanab Irrigation Company reached out to conquer a desert prairie. With the ceaseless efforts of a determined and progressive people, the challenging thirst of the desert was quenched and a wonderful heritage was given to succeeding generations of Kanab citizens.

In 1914, a private water company was organized. They installed a new pipeline. Since then, from time to time the supply of water has been increased. When Neaf Johnson, Jr. was Mayor, a new and more adequate pipeline system over the entire town was put into operation.

In 1935 the town council, under Edwin J. Ford, greatly improved the flow of water by building a large cistern made out of native red sandstone rock high up on the side of the cliffs north of town (in approximately 1980 this cistern was made into the present Senior Citizens Center). This was done as a public works project. At that time larger mains and pipes were installed in nearly every part of town. Also at this time, a 6 inch cast iron water line was laid from the wells to the city. Due to leaks in this cistern, in 1947 a cement cistern was constructed just north of the sandstone cistern. They had to hand mix the cement. It took a day and a night and a day of constant work to keep from having cold joints in the cement.

In 1952 Kanab City's culinary water yield was stepped up from 165 to 200 gallons per minute by the sinking of a well n the north end of Three Lakes Canyon. The new water source was the opening of a new era for Kanab. Mayor Daniel S Frost told citizens that gathered at Mustard Flats to watch the testing of the well tax dollars had sunk. It required about 1-half mile of 4 inch pipe to connect the new well with Kanab City's present culinary system. The present system was yielding about 232 gallons of water per minute. This had proved insufficient during peak consumption months of July and August in the past. However, with about a 2-third production increase, which the new well would effect, Kanab could look forward to no more dry days.

Due to the boom Kanab experienced at the beginning of the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1957, Mayor Harmon Steed and the Council felt compelled to drill well No. 2 known as the Big Well. It is located west of the highway at the top of Three Lakes Canyon, where the road takes off for the Sand Dunes. This is an electric powered well with 4 feet of 16 inch welded casing, 94 feet of 16 inch hole, and 56 feet of 10 and a half hole.

Immediately following the drilling of well No. 2, Kanab completed one of the most extensive underground projects to be undertaken in a small southern Utah community. The project included a $285,000 sewer, a $182,000 water system, and a $50,000 sewage disposal plant. Previously, Kanab had been draining it's sewage into Kanab Creek, presenting a health hazard to downstream water users in Arizona.

In 1959 the new water system called for 10 inch water mains from Cave Lake Canyon to the Kanab Creek Bridge and 12 inch mains from there to the north city limits. Ernest G. Kirby, councilman in charge of the project pointed out that the large lines would give the City tremendous storage capacity as well as elimination of the necessity of expensive pumping. Under the program, water mains were set down the east side of streets running from north to south and on the north side of streets running from east to west. The sewer lines were set down the opposite sides of streets.

In 1964, due to fear of contamination from surface water from the swamps and meadow lands in Cave Lake Canyon, Mayor H. Bernell Lewis and the city council deemed it wise to drill well No. 3 at the mouth of Cave Lake Canyon. Under the direction of S Thomas Lawson, councilman in charge of the water works, an all electric well was sunk 342 feet with a 12 inch hole. To make Kanab’s system an approved water system by the U.S. Health Department, the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency, an up-to-date chlorinating plant was installed near the well. To catch the sand that sloughed into the water, plugging the meters and making them so they would not register, a sand trap was installed a little south of the new well.

The water supply was pretty good until about 1973, when growth started to increase. The Kanab Creek Ranchos Subdivision almost doubled the size of Kanab. Kanab provided water for them even though they were not a part of the city. This is when Kanab started a more aggressive well drilling program. Well No. 4 and No. 5 were drilled in 1973. Wells No. 6, No. 7, and No. 8 were drilled, but were dry holes.

In 1975, the city purchased some used oil tanks from California to construct 2 1.5 million gallon storage tanks which gave the city a total of 4 million gallons of water storage. In 1976, water storage tanks were constructed in the Kanab Creek Ranchos Subdivision.

In 1979, wells No. 9 and No. 10 were drilled. At this time we had more water than we could bring to town, so in 1982 we installed a 16 inch line from Moqui Cave to the tank in Kanab. Today we are still using the 12 inch steel line and the new 16 inch line.

In 1982, the Irrigation Company went to a pressurized irrigation system, and Kanab gave the Irrigation Company the 1 million gallon cement tank.

The following wells were drilled:
  • 1983 Well#11
  • 1984 Well#12
  • 1986 Well#13
  • 1988 Well#14
  • 1993 Well#15
  • 1997 Wells#R1 (Sold)
  • 1997 Wells#R2 (Sold)
  • 1997 Wells#R3 (Sold)
  • 2000 West Fork No. 1
  • 2000 West Fork No. 2
  • 2006 West Fork No. 3
  • 2007 West Fork No. 4
  • 2008 West Fork No. 5
Most of this information was obtained from "The History of Kane County" compiled, arranged and edited by Adonis Findlay Robinson. We appreciate all her research and work in helping us to preserve the history of Kanab.