The Canals of Providence City: Sanitation and Modernization (1959-present)
Sanitization and Modernization
(1959 - present)
Modernization of Providence’s water supply began in earnest in the 1960s. The irrigation companies undertook improvements to their canals, prompted by continuing water loss. Piping and waterproof lining projects were undertaken in cooperation with the Utah Water and Power Board and the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. The installation of gates at canal points of connection were intended to assist with water measurement. At the same time, Providence City was eager to increase the culinary water supply of the city. To this end, the city leaders purchased land to build multiple reservoirs. They installed more water pumps and pipelines and dug wells. The need to increase the city water supply would only become more urgent over the decades, as the population has more than tripled since 1960.
Since 1959, the most important developments in water distribution in Providence and throughout Utah revolve around water sanitation. Although by the mid-20th century typhoid and cholera were becoming extremely rare in the United States (thanks to water treatment and better sewage systems), there still were and are waterborne diseases that remain a concern: Giardia, E.Coli, and Hepatitis A in particular. To combat such illnesses, the state and federal governments cooperated to create a Water Rating System in 1965. By complying with this system, small towns like Providence could ensure every household received clean culinary water. For a city’s water system to be “approved” by the state, there could be no "defects [in the means of conveyance] which might result in contamination of the water"; regularly-submitted samples of water had to meet certain requirements; and operation reports had to be sent to the Department of Health whenever treatment was added to the water. The Bureau of Public Water Supply insisted that water be treated more than once before being delivered to homes, and more than one method of treatment had to be applied. "[C]oagulation, settling, filtration and disinfection" were particularly mentioned. In 1966 Providence installed chlorinating equipment. Since 1965 other laws have been enacted and knowledge of waterborne diseases has increased, so the city must constantly keep abreast of such developments and make the necessary changes. In 1980 Providence’s water system achieved approval by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. The city must consistently send water quality reports to this department to maintain its approval.
An effective sewer system has a great effect on the ability to keep culinary water pure. Providence elected to connect to Logan’s existing sewer system in the latter half of the 20th century. Up to that point, cesspools, septic systems and even some outhouses were the norm. As knowledge of water sanitation has increased, so has the recognition of the need to keep irrigation water, sewer water and culinary water separate. Even irrigation water needs to be of a certain quality to avoid contaminating crops—untreated sewer water should not be used. Of course, culinary water has to meet even higher standards. Thus, "cross-connections” (places where a non-potable source of water, such as irrigation ditches, comes into contact with other water systems)must be avoided.
As of now, three of Providence City’s water sources come from wells dug during the modernization process; however, the main year-round source comes from a spring. Almost all of the irrigation companies founded in the early 19th century remain active and there is continuing need for the water companies and the city to cooperate in maintaining Providence’s water supply. They must work together to ensure water quality. Conflicts over shared sources must be resolved quickly and courteously. Shares must be regularly exchanged and purchased.
Providence’s canals remain crucial to sustaining the town. Though in some areas the irrigation ditches are hardly noticeable along the roadside, in others their shadows remain. Knowledge of Providence’s water and canal system is crucial to understanding how the town became what it is today, and how settlers have managed to survive in the arid western United States. Furthermore, the history of Providence’s water and canals has not come to an end. There will always be more developments and improvements to come.
Screenshot below courtesy of the Cache County website and Utah Division of Water Rights. This overhead view, highlighting canal locations with blue lines, also shows the modern service areas of the three major irrigation companies. The blue in the upper left-hand side is the Providence Pioneer Irrigation Company, the yellow belongs to the Providence Blacksmith Fork Irrigation Company, and the red indicates the territory of the Spring Creek Water Company.1