Hidden Water unveils surface water systems on the east side of Salt Lake Valley, both culinary and irrigation. The web site follows the seven major streams of the Wasatch Front, plus minor ones, and tracks that water from headwaters to the Jordan River and then Great Salt Lake. It intermixes contemporary photographs with historical photographs from several archives showing earlier uses and diversions of water. The web site documents how stakeholders utilize the water with treatment plants, hydropower plants and irrigation ditches. In turn, these public, recreational and commercial uses flow from water rights dating back to territorial days. The term "hidden water" refers to our tendency to take our water system for granted. We turn a tap and expect the water to flow. Where water comes from and how it's delivered is "hidden" to us. Somehow, it crosses a jumble of political divisions and property lines and arrives at our taps. The intention of this Hidden Water web site is to make that system visible and transparent.

Surface flow supplies 60% of the water we consume in Salt Lake City. It's a finite supply and it's precious. Moreover, climate change will put a strain on that supply.

Ultimately, surface water in Salt Lake Valley is a closed system. Our mountains collect moisture that falls from the sky, and over geologic deep time, gravity has pulled that water, cutting drainages that eventually empty onto and meander through the valley floor. After multiple uses, the water that's left flows into Great Salt Lake, where winter storm "lake effect" picks up surface water and deposits it back onto the Wasatch Front, some years providing approximately 20% of our snowpack. That closed system tells us we must live within the cyclical boundaries of our water. Once we see that water and know where it comes from, we will be able to assess the delicate balance between using water for in-stream uses that benefit the environment or in-house uses that serve our lifestyles and economy. Hopefully, when our water is no longer hidden, we will begin to better appreciate and conserve it.

Potential Web Site Users

Besides people generally interested in Salt Lake Valley surface water, the following groups will find this web site especially useful:

  • K-12 teachers
  • Citizen activists
  • Water policy planners
  • Civil engineers
  • Historians of water development
  • Landscape photographers

How to Navigate the Web Site

This web site can be navigated three ways. You can use keywords to pull up images. Or you can move your mouse across the map of the Wasatch Front and the east side of Salt Lake Valley, select a drainage and then magnify it. Or you can select a drainage or irrigation system from one of the pull-down menus. As you zoom in, hot spots appear that you can click to see photographs from that spot. The spots also are located by GPS coordinates. Water usage in each drainage can differ, following philosophy and policy based on historical development. Sometimes, surface water is used for municipal and industrial purposes. Other times, it's tapped for irrigation. You can follow those changes by tracing a stream from its headwaters until it's diverted, enters an underground culvert or empties into the Jordan River.

Web Site Authors

Hidden Water is the collaboration of University of Utah documentarians Craig Denton, professor of communication, and Peter Goss, professor emeritus of architecture + planning. Environmental Humanities graduate student Carrol Firmage provided research support.


A variety of people and institutions have provided invaluable support, both technical and financial:
J. Willard Marriott Library
Western Waters Digital Library
University of Utah Research Committee
Environmental Humanities Program, College of Humanities
The DigitLab, Department of Geography
Water Wise Utah
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Jeff Niermeyer, Director, Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities