Grand Canyon National Park officials say the 6-inch aluminum pipe that feeds water to area hotels and other facilities needs to be replaced, citing more than 80 pipeline breaks since 2010.
Park officials are considering replacing the whole 12.5-mile water pipeline that serves the South Rim of the canyon, or limiting the project to a smaller segment.
Preliminary plans call for ferrying pipe pieces and equipment by helicopter into the canyon to replace miles of pipeline serving the South Rim. That pipeline extends from springs located partway up the North Rim, down to and across the Colorado River in the canyon bottom and up to a pump station partway up the South Rim.
Depending on the scope of the final project, the new water pipeline would take three to four years to complete and cost from $75 million to $124 million. Work could start in 2020.
The Grand Canyon is one of the busiest national parks in the country, with 6 million visitors in 2016 and has about 2,500 year round resisents. The pipeline currently serving the park was built in the 1960's and park spokesman Jeffrey Olson said it has already outlasted its designed 40 years of use.
Each break in the line costs around $25,000 to fix and a rock slide caused by a storm last winter took out 300 feet of an aging pipe, the North Rim's sole source of fresh water. That break cost $1.5 million to fix and took weeks, causing the Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim to cancel reservations.
A flash-flood in 1995 caused extensive damage to the pipeline, shutting it down for 28 days while it was repaired. During that time, the park implemented emergency water hauling measures and trucked in 23 million gallons of water - 85 trucks per day - from outside sources at a cost of approximately $5 million dollars.
Other line breaks have lead to park officials instructing backpackers to be prepared to treat creek water for their drinking needs.
Olson said plans are to install a larger, 8-inch replacement pipeline to handle the increasing demand from residents and park visitors. He said the planned stainless steel replacement pipe would resist damage and ideally last 50 years or longer.
The National Park Service is seeking public comment on several plans to replace the pipe before reviewing how the plans could impact the environment.
After the South Rim project, replacing a pipeline on the North Rim is next on the list but first things first. "It's probably the largest deferred maintenance project in the whole Park Service," Olson said.
Documents for the project are available here: