Grand Canyon National Park is set to undergo a large infrastructure overhaul following the U.S. National Park Service’s awarding of a $208-million contract to replace the site’s aging Transcanyon Waterline (TCWL). Stronghold Engineering, Inc, Perris, Calif., secured the winning bid against a single competitor for the fixed-price contract. The contract was awarded on March 14.

According to NPS, the multi-year Transcanyon Waterline Project will ensure a 50-year sustainable water infrastructure for the park’s approximately six million annual visitors and 2,500 year-round residents. The project will encompass the replacement of the TCWL and upgrades to the associated water delivery system throughout the inner canyon and South Rim.

Built in the 1960s, the 12.5-mile aluminum pipeline is the primary source of potable water and fire suppression for all of the Arizona park's South Rim facilities. It also supplies water to over 800 historic buildings and other facilities located in the inner canyon's Cross Canyon Corridor. The current pipeline begins at Roaring Springs on the park's North Rim and reaches the South Rim after passing through the Havasupai Gardens pump station.

In a recent statement, National Park Service Director Chuck Sams expressed enthusiasm for the effort. “This huge undertaking is an example of the work taking place in national parks across the country to repair or replace vital infrastructure that provides visitors with safer and more enjoyable experiences.”

Funding for the Transcanyon Waterline Project is primarily provided by the U.S. Government’s National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund established by the 2020 Great American Outdoors Act. Since 2020, the U.S. Dept. of the Interior has awarded $2.5 billion in federal contracts for the National Parks Service.

The decision to replace the pipeline stems from its deteriorated condition and frequent failures requiring costly and continuous maintenance work to repair. Since 2010, there have been over 85 major breaks, each causing disruptions in water delivery.

According to NPS, a break typically runs longitudinally along the pipe and repairing it usually consists of cutting out and replacing an 8-ft section. Repair operations are particularly challenging due to the canyon’s extreme terrain, bouts of severe weather and high temperatures within the inner canyon which regularly soar above 100-degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months.

Initial activity will focus on establishing construction infrastructure and staging areas in the Grand Canyon Village on the park’s South Rim. This includes the construction of an auxiliary hangar, helicopter landing pad and contractor support area at the park’s helicopter base. Tree and vegetation removal for those areas began on March 17 and concluded in early April 2023.

The project will relocate the delivery system’s water intake from Roaring Springs to Bright Angel Creek. The move will reduce the length of the TCWL and eliminate the section north of Phantom Ranch, which is prone to frequent failures. The water intake at Roaring Springs will continue to provide water to the North Rim.

Additionally, a one million-gallon-per-day water treatment plant will be built at the South Rim, along with a smaller water treatment plant at Phantom Ranch. The water distribution system at Havasupai Gardens will be replaced, and approximately three miles of waterline and electrical supply line between Havasupai Gardens and Phantom Ranch will be upgraded. A water intake system, pumping station and local water treatment plant will be constructed for the Phantom Ranch region, with the area's water and electrical distribution systems also to be replaced.

Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Ed Keable emphasized the amount of work NPS and other federal agencies have put into the project. “It's taken years of planning, public involvement, design work and coordination to reach this milestone, and we're excited to work through the next phase to complete such a critical project that is the lifeline for our staff, residents and visitors,” he said.

According to NPS, some trails and public areas will be closed during construction, but the park expects no visitor restrictions or closures in 2023. The project is expected to be completed by 2027.