Unearthing the U Well

Irrigation system testing on new softball field

Contributed by J. Walter Azbill

With our busy schedules, it is easy to forget about the amazing work that has gone into making the U of U a beautiful campus. A lot of excellently planned water management systems help to keep the many trees, bushes, plants, flowers, grass, animals and people enthusiastically green, happy and healthy.

When we asked Jim Staples about the history of water usage on campus, he began telling his story like it was just another day at the office. This is because Jim has been The U of U Water Master since 1995 and brings a wealth of expert wisdom.

Historically, several different sources supplied water to the University of Utah over the years. Campus water initially came by a combination of city water from City Creek, Red Butte Canyon and an on campus well fed by an underground aquifer. The transportation of the water was supported by a carefully planned network of cast iron pipes and subsurface aqueducts, which are still in use today. As technology advanced, campus water became completely independent from its city source. In 1926, the University dug The Fountain of Ute. As a result of erosion, in the early 70s The Fountain of Ute collapsed in on itself and a new well was dug just east of the original well. In 2005, this well was shut down because of new water management regulations and the U of U’s water supply was switched over to the city sources again.

However, in 2010, because of a U of U initiative to find cost effective ways to make campus landscape irrigation practices more self-sustaining, Facilities Management reactivated the well. To conform to new water management regulations, the water was now only to be used for irrigation, which means for non-consumption purposes only. In the two years since the re-purposing of the well as a source for irrigation, the University of Utah saved close to $105,000 in water costs. The success of this approach has led to additional plans for implementing projects that will supply irrigation water to additional areas around campus. With these plans, more innovative ideas are in the mix, including being able to use the 50 degree water from the aquifer as a supplemental cooling technique for buildings during the summer.

We are very happy to have The Water Master Jim Staples protecting our water supply. Jim truly is an important part of the water network here at the University of Utah. The water management upgrades will be a wonderful step in the right direction towards sustainability here at the U of U.

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Shireen Ghorbani