By Adam R. Eastman, PhD
Excitement and optimism defined the local outlook in Salt Lake and Utah counties a century ago. New irrigation projects and cash crops combined with new processing plants and transportation infrastructure to create an agricultural boom in Utah. Bluffdale and the Jordan Narrows were at the epicenter of those developments. The Salt Lake and Utah electric interurban line connecting Salt Lake to Payson allowed passengers and farm produce easy access to city markets. Two new irrigation developments allowed the opening of tens of thousands of acres of new farmland on the benches on both sides of the Narrows and allowed more productivity of existing farms. Constructed as a part of these developments, the Draper Canal played an interesting role in the economic boom in the valley.
Farming in Salt Lake County generally requires irrigation. The first irrigation ditches and canals utilized the water of the mountain streams. However, by late summer the flow of these streams diminishes as the melting mountain snow tapers off. One solution was to tap the Jordan River. However, since most of the valley is higher in elevation than the river, this requires long canals that start at the river’s highest point in the valley. Multiple canals fan out from each side of the Jordan River in the Narrows, but these canals still do not reach much of the valley. To solve the problem, civic leader and water developer Joseph R. Murdock proposed two new irrigation projects.
With the financial backing of mining magnate Jesse Knight, Murdock headed both the Provo Reservoir Company (PRC) and Utah Lake Irrigation Company (ULIC). The PRC modified natural lakes in the Provo River drainage high in the Uinta Mountains to act as reservoirs. After flowing down the river, the water was diverted into the Provo Reservoir Canal, today more commonly known as the Murdock Canal, near the mouth of Provo Canyon and running to the Point of the Mountain. There, the company built an inverted siphon to allow the water to cross the Jordan Narrows to irrigation canals 200 feet above the river and canals fanning out to the bench lands west of the Jordan River in Utah and Salt Lake counties.1
Constructed simultaneously, Murdock’s Utah Irrigation Company built a canal running from Saratoga Springs northward to the Narrows and beyond, however at a lower elevation than the Murdock Canal. A pumping plant near the Saratoga Springs resort pumped Utah Lake water 100 feet uphill to the canal. A subsidiary company, the Utah Lake Distributing Company, handled the allocation and delivery of water through the canal. As a result, the canal is today known as the Utah Lake Distributing Canal.2 Farmers in Draper and Sandy with land above the existing gravity canals on the Jordan River saw an opportunity to tap into the new supply from the Utah Irrigation Company’s Canal on the west side of the Jordan Narrows. They proposed a siphon to bring the Utah Lake water from the ULIC canal to the east side of the Narrows into a new canal running through Draper into Sandy. Originally known as the Sandy Branch Canal, this new canal would become known later as simply the Draper Canal. While virtually every other irrigation project worked to get water to the west side of the Jordan, the Draper Canal was special in that it moved water west to east across the Jordan River.
Murdock’s Utah Irrigation Company began delivering water in 1913. Newspapers hailed the project as “one of the most modern and substantial projects in the country” and “one of the most perfectly constructed canals in the West.”3 In October 1913, the company’s directors agreed to build the branch canal from Bluffdale through Draper and into Sandy.4 Salt Lake contractor, Owen H. Gray, constructed a 2,700‐foot wood‐staved pipeline crossing over the Jordan River and under the tracks of the Rio Grande railroad. This pipeline served as a siphon connecting the branch canal to the main canal high on the west bank of the Jordan. The contractors completed the canal and siphon in the spring of 1914 in time to make water deliveries that season.5
In 1920, the Utah Lake Irrigation Co. agreed to sell the Sandy Branch Canal to the Draper Irrigation and Sandy Canal companies. The two companies shared the costs of operating the canal on a 70/30 basis. Because of damage to the siphon, and to save on operating costs, they decided to replace the wood pipeline with a new pumping plant located on the East Jordan Canal. Thus instead of pumping water from Utah Lake at Saratoga Springs, the water would move from Utah Lake through the Jordan River and into the East Jordan Canal. As a result, this required enlargement of a three mile segment of the East Jordan Canal between Turner Dam in the Jordan Narrows to the new pumping plant. Four new pumps, with a combined capacity of 60 cubic feet per second, lifted the water 90 feet to the Draper Canal. This was ten feet lower than the ULIC pumps on the lake, allowing the companies to save on electricity costs and the overhead of bringing water through the ULIC system. The new pumping plant started delivering water in 1921.6
The canals of Murdock’s two companies allowed for the opening of thousands of acres of new farmland in southern Salt Lake County. Existing farms benefited from supplemental water to extend their growing season, allowing them to grow higher value cash crops like sugar beets and canning vegetables. Several new sugar plants and canning factories were built in the region during this same time period, contributing to the boom in Utah agriculture.
The Draper Canal, now separated from Murdock’s system, continued to play a similar role bringing increased prosperity to the farmers and towns of Bluffdale, Draper, and Sandy. The canal remained in operation until 1994 when the Draper Irrigation Co. (WaterPro) converted from flood irrigation to pressurized irrigation. Since that conversion, portions of the canal have been maintained for stormwater runoff, while some of the canal right‐of‐way has been converted into trails.7
1 Horace R. Sheley, “Private Irrigation Projects” in Utah State Engineer’s Office, Eight Biennial Report of the State Engineer to the Governor of Utah,1911–12, (Salt Lake City: Arrow Press, 1913), 201–4.
2 Ibid, 204–5
3 “Extensive Irrigation System Nears Completion,” Salt Lake Herald, September 14, 1913.
4 “To Extend Canals,” Ogden Standard Examiner, October 29, 1913.
5 For Gray see, “Will Build Siphon,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 14, 1913; For completion of canal and siphon see, “Reclaiming Land in Ut. Co.,” Ogden Standard Examiner, and “Desert Shall Blossom as the Rose,” American Fork Citizen, April 4, 1914.
6 Barbara Terman Gardner and Woodrow S. Mickelsen, A History of Draper Irrigation Company/WaterPro: Celebrating 100 Years of Culinary Water Service (Salt Lake City, Draper Irrigation Company, DBA WaterPro, Inc. 2011), 43, 45–6.
7 For a history of the conversion to Pressure Irrigation see, Gardner and Mickelsen, 79–82, For the use of the canal for storm water and conveyance to Draper city see pages 121–6.