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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

The Grand Canyon's only freshwater pipeline is in jeopardy

The trans-canyon water supply is at risk of 'catastrophic failure,' says the park's superintendent.

by: Trent Knoss

photo: Grand Canyon NPS / Flickr
photo: Grand Canyon NPS / Flickr

The Grand Canyon's only freshwater pipeline is under greater strain than ever and risks 'catastrophic failure' in the near future, according to a new investigative report from Arizona's KPHO news channel.

Completed in the 1960s, the park's trans-canyon water system is the primary source of drinking water for some 4 million visitors per year. The 17-mile-long pipeline carries the water from Roaring Springs beneath the North Rim all the way to the South Rim, allowing hikers to refill along the way. But breakdowns have become more frequent in recent years. Check out the station's full report:

CBS 5 - KPHO

The pipeline broke four times in July alone, and repairs are proving to be costly:

"The whole pipe just peeled open ... and split and that just shows you're at another level of fatigue," [park superintendent Dave] Uberuaga said.

And the repairs? A "challenge" is putting it lightly.

"We're talking 10 miles down into the canyon," he said.

Because the pipeline is so remote, whenever there is a break there are only two ways to get to it: Mule train, or by helicopter, which makes the repairs even more expensive.


Uberuaga told KPHO that a complete overhaul of the pipeline would cost an estimated $135 -140 million.

Read more: KPHO Arizona


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As expensive, obnoxious and intrusive replacing the water line would be, I don't see another alternative for the South Rim. At some point in the near future, a major pipeline failure is going to force a closure of the South Rim to visitors for an extended period. As we saw with the recent closure the impact of such a closure is immense.

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