Even in drought conditions, Utahns often take it for granted that they can go to a faucet, turn a handle, and see drinkable water fall from a spout. But what did people do before piping and sanitation became standard? A study of the history of water in Providence City provides an excellent example of the struggle, conflict and cooperation involved in making this life source available in the kitchen and the field in an arid environment like Utah.

Irrigation ditch full of water<br />

Irrigation ditches like this one carried water from Spring Creek and the Blacksmith Fork River to settlers in Providence. These smaller ditches were usually branches of larger canals that carried the water for miles from the original source.


Irrigation, an agricultural method that diverts water from a natural source to “supplement[]...precipitation” in the watering of crops, has been crucial to the growth and prosperity of the western United States.[1] Without irrigation diverting water by means of ditches and canals, Utah’s agricultural potential would be extremely limited.[2] The primary purpose of irrigation is to provide water for crops, not culinary water (i.e. water used for household purposes). Ideally, in periods of early settlement, culinary water would be drawn from a well.  If it was not practicable to dig a well, a person needed to travel to a natural freshwater source like a spring or a river and carry the water home. Of course this was time-consuming and labor-intensive, so when the settlers of Providence City dug canals for agricultural purposes, they also used the water coursing through the ditches for their domestic water supply.[3]


There is a difference between a ditch and a canal.  Canals are “artificial waterways” that “convey” water while irrigation ditches are “used for...irrigation or drainage of agricultural land.”[4]  Essentially all irrigation ditches are a type of canal, but not all canals are irrigation ditches. While canals may be built for various purposes, in Providence they were primarily created for irrigation. Without them, the land would not have been able to support the farmers who chose to settle in the area, and the city would probably not exist today.

Ground Water Supply in Cache Valley, Utah, Available for Domestic and Irrigation Use, page 37 photograph<br />

Wells are and were a good source of household water because underground water is not as easily contaminated as surface water. But in Providence City, very few wells existed until the latter half of the 20th century when improved technology made drilling easier.[5]  Even today, surface water, not wells, serves as the “primary source of irrigation water in Cache Valley.”[6]  This particular well was drilled by the Logan River and Blacksmith Fork Irrigation Company in 1940.[7]

[1] “Irrigation,” Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, accessed July 30, 2021, https://rmp.utah.gov/irrigation/.
[2] “Irrigation."
[3] “Providence—Water for Every Home,” Deseret Evening News, February 25, 1903, page 7, https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6n30rw6/2441410.
[4] “Ditches and Canals,” Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, accessed July 30, 2021, https://rmp.utah.gov/ditches-and-canals/.
[5] The Utah Water Atlas (Logan, UT: Utah State University, Utah Water Research Laboratory, year unknown), 10. Published as a website. Available at https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj_p43kwYryAhXmAZ0JHaLRAHsQFjAAegQIBRAD&url=https%3A%2F%2Fuwrl.usu.edu%2Ffiles%2Fpdf%2Fwater-atlas.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1S9VaBxYnmY5k-3wxGXuI6.
[6] Kim A. Kariya, D. Michael Roark and Karen M. Hanson, Hydrology of Cache Valley, Cache County, Utah, and Adjacent Part of Idaho, with Emphasis on Simulation of Ground-water Flow (State of Utah Department of Natural Resources, Technical Publication No. 108, 1994), 109.
[7] William Peterson, Ground Water Supply in Cache Valley, Utah, Available for Domestic and Irrigation Use (Logan, Utah: Utah State Agricultural College. Extension Service, 1946). Available at https://digital.lib.usu.edu/digital/collection/Bear/id/9490.