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Periodic closures planned at popular Salt Lake canyon ahead of water plant construction

An artist rendering of the City Creek Water Treatment Plant operations building and a new facility that is planned to be built next to it. The project, slated to be completed in 2025, will result in periodic City Creek Canyon road closures over the next three years.

An artist rendering of the City Creek Water Treatment Plant operations building and a new facility that is planned to be built next to it. The project, slated to be completed in 2025, will result in periodic City Creek Canyon road closures over the next three years. (Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities)


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SALT LAKE CITY — City Creek Canyon is a popular place for runners, bikers, casual walkers and even picnic-goers, especially in the warmer months.

But those planning to recreate may have to deal with periodic closures and heavy construction equipment in the coming months and years as the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities prepares for the construction of a $52.4 million project to revamp the water treatment plant located about 3 miles into the canyon.

The canyon's paved road and all unpaved trails from the entrance gate through the first 3 miles into the canyon will be closed Monday through Friday beginning next week and lasting through the end of February, according to department officials.

Similar weekday paved road closures are expected again later in the year into 2024 and 2025, though the canyon is still expected to remain open during weekends and holidays.

"Whenever there is construction, you're going to have some impacts. And the biggest impact to the community ... is access to the canyon," said Jordan King, a consultant for Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, in a meeting with residents of the city's Avenues neighborhood Wednesday evening.

"We understand that this is an intricate part of the community," he added, noting that a recent survey of residents found the canyon's easy access to nature and close proximity to homes are why it's so popular. "So we do understand that, and we're doing our best to limit the amount of impacts to our community."

Repairing an aging treatment plant

City Creek has always played an important role in Salt Lake City's water supply since pioneers first settled in the area. It was the first water source that settlers diverted, which happened not long after they arrived in 1847. By 1876, the city created a piped water distribution system that helped residents, farmers and firefighters alike, according to the city.

The City Creek Water Treatment Plant has been in service since 1955. An operations building was later constructed in the 2000s.

But the facility's age is now starting to show, resulting in "several structural and mechanical deficiencies" that department officials say "must be addressed to restore the resiliency and reliability needed for this critical water supply."

So the department began a few years ago looking at major improvements that not only fix its deficiencies but also reduce risks from natural disasters like earthquakes, wildfires, drought and severe weather.

A large chunk of the project is being paid for by the federal government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency allocated $36.68 million in Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC, funds to the city last year, which saves about 70% of the cost city taxpayers would have had to pay.

Why close the canyon?

The federal grant essentially doubles the speed at which the project must be completed, offering both benefits and drawbacks.

City officials originally planned to complete the project in a five-to-seven-year window so it would limit impacts for people who use the canyon. It's now required to be mostly completed in three years. On one hand, it means the project will be completed faster and at a lower cost to the city, but it also means closures are needed to help the city complete the project by the end of 2025.

"So you're going to see more intense impacts for a shorter period of time instead of smaller impacts for a longer period of time," King said.

A pipeline has been set up to allow the city to treat water through a direct filtration pipeline while the treatment plant is rebuilt. Construction of that resulted in some of the first temporary closures in December, he added.

A sign posted along Bonneville Boulevard informs people of upcoming City Creek Canyon project impacts on Dec. 2, 2022.
A sign posted along Bonneville Boulevard informs people of upcoming City Creek Canyon project impacts on Dec. 2, 2022. (Photo: Carter Williams, KSL.com)

The new weekday closures beginning Monday come as crews begin a "major upgrade" to replace the "core elements" of the original treatment plant structure, a spokeswoman for the department explained to KSL.com Thursday. Those closures will remain in place through the end of February.

The department is also finalizing designs related to the rest of the project, including a new housing facility for the part of the plant that treats water as it flows down City Creek to the facility. This component has been exposed to natural elements since the plant was first built in the 1950s.

A photo of the current 	
City Creek Water Treatment Plant (left) next to a rendering of the upgraded facility (right). The project to upgrade the water treatment plant is expected to impact some City Creek Canyon recreation for the next three years.
A photo of the current City Creek Water Treatment Plant (left) next to a rendering of the upgraded facility (right). The project to upgrade the water treatment plant is expected to impact some City Creek Canyon recreation for the next three years. (Photo: Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities)

Salt Lake Public Utilities officials unveiled thier first rendering of the new facility during Wednesday's meeting; its design is very similar to the architecture of the operations building in the canyon. The department plans to release a new survey later this month, which will help piece together the final design.

"We're trying to match the one that's already there and impact the view as least as possible," King said, of the building.

Laura Briefer, the department's director, pointed out that there may be some site screening options like vegetation in the final design, after a resident asked if trees could be planted around the new building to limit disturbance to the natural views in the canyon.

A 3-year process

The department says similar closures will return in May as the "main component of construction" begins, King said. At that point, the entire roadway from the main entrance gate will be closed during "peak recreation times" on weekdays for quite a while.

King explained that there will be "large amounts" of construction vehicles coming up and down the canyon along with some plant demolition. These pose possible safety concerns for visitors, hence the closure. This closure may also impact unpaved trails at times.

A department spokesperson told KSL.com that "significant" peak recreation time closures to the main roadway are expected through the rest of the year, 2024 and into 2025. However, officials say they do plan to keep the canyon open during the weekends and holidays because of its importance to those who recreate in it.

"We're still looking for ways to keep it open as much as possible," King said, noting that closure plans may shift in the future as they reassess construction progress over the next three years.

The closure is also not expected to impact Bonneville Boulevard, the road that connects the Avenues with City Creek Canyon and also Capitol Hill, nor Memory Grove Park. The northern arm of the park extends out to the other side of Bonneville Boulevard from the entrance to City Creek Canyon.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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