The E.T. Canal in Tooele County: A Historic Water Conveyance System
The E.T. Canal is one of the 13 linear sites in the UNEV Pipeline corridor selected for detailed study including review of historical records and documentation, measured drawings of the site, and photographic documentation. A lengthy history of the canal, two segments of which are crossed by the UNEV Pipeline corridor, was uncovered as part of the historical research.
The canal is one of only two sites recorded in the UNEV Pipeline corridor that dates to the Early Settlement of Utah period (1847–1859). This period corresponds to the earliest Mormon presence in Utah, much of which occurred around the Great Salt Lake and the surrounding lands that were productive for agriculture. The canal was built by Mormon settlers of Tooele County including the canal’s namesake, Mormon leader Ezra Taft Benson. It was constructed to power a grist mill and to carry water to nearby agricultural fields. The canal was originally recorded by archaeologists as having been built in 1879, however WSA research found maps that document at least part of its existence in 1856.
Maps of the E.T. Canal
Historical documentation of the E. T. Canal comes mainly from depictions of the canal on 19th and 20th century maps of the Tooele Valley. The earliest relevant maps are the 1856 General Land Office (GLO) survey plats of the two townships in which the canal is located. A complete plat of the canal itself was prepared in 1879 and is on file at the Tooele County Recorder’s Office. This map also depicts the parcels of land the canal watered at that time, labeled with the names of the landowners. Water-rights documents for the canal are also on file at the Tooele County Recorder’s Office.
A plat from an 1891 resurvey of the area shows the canal in much the same place as depicted on the 1879 canal plat. Unfortunately the 1891 plat does not show the full extent of the canal so it is not possible to say if the full northward extent of the canal was still in place at that time.
Topographic maps of the area prepared by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in the early 1900s show the alignment of the canal in the same location as the earlier GLO maps, however earlier USGS maps are not sufficiently detailed to show it. The modern E. T. Canal, as depicted on the 1955 USGS Mills Junction, Utah, 7.5-minute topographic quadrangle and the current edition of the same quadrangle, shows an alignment very similar to that of the 1879 ditch beginning at the Benson Mill.
The Canal and Nearby Features
The E. T. Canal is named for Ezra Taft Benson, an early settler of the Tooele Valley and a prominent leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Benson was appointed by Brigham Young to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1846 and served in that capacity until his death in 1869. In 1850, just three years after the Mormons first settled near the Great Salt Lake, the General Assembly of the newly created State of Deseret granted Benson exclusive rights to the waters of both Twin Springs and Rock Spring in the Tooele Valley “for mills and irrigation purposes.” A similar grant was made the same day to Brigham Young for certain waters in the Jordan River valley. Together these two grants were among the earliest officially recognized water rights in what soon became (also in 1850) the Territory of Utah.
In 1854, E.T. Benson built a grist mill near one of his springs, a mill that still stands today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (The Benson Grist Mill). The area extending from the mill north to Black Rock, on the shore of the Great Salt Lake, was settled by homesteaders beginning in the 1850s and became known as E. T. City, also named for Benson. Buildings at both places are depicted on the 1856 plat map. The irrigation ditch also passes a place labeled Lone Rock. This landmark is better known today as Adobe Rock although its earlier name survives in the name of the Lone Rock Ranch, which was located immediately to the west.
Histories of Tooele County discuss the development of irrigation and milling, with specific references to the Benson Grist Mill that shared the same source of water as the E.T. Canal. References are also made to “E.T. City” as containing one of four large springs in the valley. One of these springs fed a stream that was dammed in 1870 to provide water for a new industrial building, the Grantsville Woolen Factory. Brigham Young stressed the need for Mormons to be independent, and part of this independence included weaving and sewing their own clothing. Unfortunately, the factory had a very short life; failure of the dam and water supply were the main reasons the industry was doomed. The E.T. Canal, however, continued to supply water for agricultural purposes and the Lone Rock Ranch through which the canal passed became an important landmark for many years.
Physical Attributes of the Canal
We know much less about the physical appearance of the canal over time than we do about its location over a century of use. Water-rights documents describe the canal as 12 feet wide but do not provide information about the depth or profile of the canal or about any of its features (gates, turnouts, laterals, etc). Today, Segment 1 of the E. T. Canal is abandoned and covered in grass in an actively used pasture. It survives only as a linear depression in a portion that was apparently never lined. It is roughly 12 feet wide with a gently sloped profile that is probably similar to that of the original canal.
Segment 2 is lined with concrete, is only about six feet wide, and has a steeper, angular profile made possible by the concrete lining. Segment 2 also has modern operational features that are probably of the same undetermined (but fairly recent) age as the lining. It is well maintained and the UNEV right-of-way runs roughly parallel to and across this segment. The lining, with evidence of periodic renovation efforts, does not contain any visible date stamps or other marks. Segment 2 includes ancillary features including two check gates, several lateral gates, a concrete lateral chute, a wooden driveway bridge, and a large concrete culvert. The gates serve to halt the flow in the canal and divert it to the lateral head gates upstream.
The E.T. Canal Today
Today, the canal is located on private land and its gates still function to control and distribute water in agricultural fields south of the Great Salt Lake. The pipeline was constructed under the canal through directional boring to avoid impacts.
For further information:
O’Mack, Scott, with contributions by Jennifer Levstik
2012 Data Recovery along the UNEV Pipeline—Utah Segment; Davis, Salt Lake, Tooele, Juab, Millard, Beaver, Iron, and Washington Counties, Utah: Volume V. Aligned with History: Mitigative Documentation of Historic
Linear Sites. Utah State Project No. U-11-SQ-1012bfmps(e); WSA Technical Report No. 2011-29. John C. Ravesloot, Scott O’Mack, Michael J. Boley, and Melanie A. Medeiros, general editors. 6 vols. William Self
Associates, Tucson, Arizona, and Cedar City, Utah.
Complete references can be viewed in our Additional Information section.