City engineer tackles Ephraim’s
thorniest public works problem
By Suzanne Dean
Nov. 30, 2017
EPHRAIM—Bryan Kimball doesn’t want to take too much credit for the five-year effort to solve one of the thorniest public works problems Ephraim City has ever faced.
Kimball has been the Ephraim city engineer since 2003. He joined staff right after completing his master’s degree in civil engineering at Utah State University.
The thorny problem has been repairing the Ephraim Tunnel, which runs 1.5 miles from east to west through the middle of one of the mountains in the Wasatch Plateau, bringing critical irrigation and culinary water to the city.
The project has posed challenges in terms of intergovernmental coordination, funding, engineering and terrain. “It’s the most complex project I’ve worked on,” Kimball says.
Yet, with the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” in sight, Kimball stresses that keeping the waterway viable has been a team effort. “Ephraim City is just one of the players who came together to make this project happen,” he says. “The project would not have gone forward without cooperation and support from all parties. All parties have been exceptional to work with since the start of the project over five years ago.”
One of the reasons repairing the tunnel was so critical was that it is the delivery system for water the city needs to survive. “If we lose the tunnel, we can’t supply the city,” Kimball says. Yet the 80-year-old tunnel was starting to collapse.
On the east side of the mountains are snowdrifts that are still 20 feet high into July. There is nothing comparable on the west side facing the city. A host of springs are also located over the crest from Ephraim on the eastern face.
Water from the springs and snowmelt drains into 8 miles of ditches that course through the meadows just over Skyline Drive. Ultimately, the ditches come together in a single channel that flows into the tunnel, which is located northeast of the intersection of Skyline Drive and the Joe’s Valley Road. A drop of water entering the down-sloping tunnel reaches the west side in 15 minutes.
The tunnel is just as critical to farms as it is to city residents. “If we shut off water (flowing through the tunnel), we eliminate one or two (hay) crops for the farmers, and that’s not going to work,” Kimball says.
Another consideration is the city’s power supply. Both irrigation and culinary water flowing through the tunnel are channeled into hydroelectric plants before being delivered to customers. The “hydros” provide one-third of Ephraim’s electricity.
The main partners in the tunnel rehabilitation project are Ephraim City and the Ephraim Irrigation Co. But because the project involves water, albeit water coming off public land, a lot of other entities have been involved.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is the official owner of the tunnel. The tunnel and the 8 miles of feeder canals are on U.S. Forest Service land. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a small role because the water coming through the tunnel is used to generate power.
At the state level, the Utah Division of Water Resources, the Utah Division of Drinking Water and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality have all been involved in funding or oversight of the project.
Members of the Utah congressional delegation and local representative in the Utah Legislature have supported the project, including the city’s and irrigation company’s requests for funding.
The consulting engineering firm has been Franson Civil Engineers of American Fork, which specializes in water projects. The general contractor is J.W. Fowler of Dallas, Oregon, which specializes in heavy construction, including tunneling.
One of the challenges in the project has been coordinating all the partners. That task has fallen heavily on Kimball.
The story of the Ephraim Tunnel goes back to the 1890s and M.F. Murray, the editor of the Ephraim Enterprise at the time. By that date, there was a lot more cultivated acreage around Ephraim than when the pioneers arrived in the 1850s—and not enough water flowing off the western slope to irrigate it.
Murray decided the solution was to bring water from the other side of the mountain. He actually got a tunnel dug several hundred feet into the side of the same mountain where the current tunnel is located. But the project was dropped because people thought digging a tunnel was more effort than it was worth.
In 1916, a contractor named Henry Lund tried to start a tunnel at a lower level on the same mountain. He ran into the same local opposition.
Then in the late 1920s, the Great Depression hit along with the nationwide drought that triggered the dust bowl. Local farmers started talking about a tunnel again.
According to a two-page typed history passed down through various board members of the Ephraim Irrigation Co. (no author is listed), “large groups of citizens went into the mountains to see for themselves the feasibility of securing more water. They found an abundance of water could easily be brought through the abandoned Murray tunnel or a tunnel at a lower level.”
By 1934, with the drought as bad as ever and an effort underway to pull the nation out of the Depression, the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to loan $163,434 to the irrigation company to build a tunnel at the site of the Lund attempt in 1916. Another reference says the final cost was $191,000.
Suffice it to say those amounts are a fraction of the $3.7 million it is costing to bring the ambitious 1930s structure into the 21st Century.
Workers on the original tunnel started digging from both sides of the mountain. As they got a little way in, they set off dynamite to loosen the rock. The final tunnel was 6-1/2 feet in diameter, 7,113 feet long and sloped 21 feet from east to west.
“The length of tunnel was found to be only 8 inches different from the engineers’ estimate at the beginning of the job,” the typed history says. “The digging from the east and west ends was in perfect alignment as far as the eye could tell, but the engineers found that they failed to coincide perfectly by an inch or two.”
When what was called the Horseshoe Tunnel was completed in 1937, Ephraim declared a three-day celebration.
The biggest day was July 4, which fell on a Sunday. The day started with special services in the Ephraim LDS Tabernacle (since demolished).
But in 1937, people apparently weren’t as sensitive about observation of the Sabbath as they are today. At noon, there was a car caravan to the “new community camp on Lake Hill.” At the campground, a program was presented and sandwiches served.
That afternoon, there was a double-header baseball game, followed in the evening by a “bathing beauty review” with “business houses in every community in Sanpete sponsoring entrants.”
For decades, the tunnel carried irrigation water only. In the 1960s, according to a former irrigation company board member, Ephraim City arranged to run a culinary pipe through the tunnel. The city signed a formal lease with the BOR in 1983.
But by 2000, the tunnel was starting to degrade. “The Bureau of Reclamation had been recommending changes for a long time,” Kimball says. “It got kicked down the road for a lot of years.”
The original tunnel had been reinforced by concrete in a few places, wood timbers in others, and rock and dirt only in others. Pieces of the walls and ceiling were falling onto the tunnel floor where irrigation water ran through. “It got to where not many people were willing to go through the tunnel,” Kimball says.
In September 2012, Kimball and representatives from the irrigation company, BOR and Franson Civil Engineers gathered for an inspection. It was the first time Kimball went through the tunnel end to end.
“There were a couple of sections where it was pretty sketchy, places where the boards had partially collapsed,” he says. “I put my hand on the ceiling to get over some rocks and a rock fell (off the ceiling). That kind of scared everybody.”
In one place, the tunnel had compressed from its original 6.5-foot diameter to 3 or 4 feet. People in the inspection party had to crawl through the space. “You didn’t want to linger there, for sure,” Kimball says.
After the inspection, Franson Engineers wrote a 60-page report essentially saying the tunnel had to be fixed. But how? “Funding was a huge issue,” Kimball says. “How do you take on a project that size?”
Kimball checked with the Army Corps of Engineers, the lead federal water agency. The Corps said it couldn’t fund a structure owned by another federal agency (the BOR).
The BOR had a grant program called WaterSmart. An application submitted in behalf of the Ephraim Irrigation Co. was rejected because the grant program was geared to water conservation, not things like tunnel preservation.
At one point, an Ephraim delegation, including the mayor, city manager, a council member and Kimball went to Washington, D.C. to meet with the national directors of the BOR and Army Corps as well as several members of the Utah congressional delegation.
The visits helped with funding as well as regulatory approvals, Kimball says. The Ephraim Irrigation Co. submitted a new WaterSmart application in which it proposed to use about half of the grant funds for conservation improvements on Ephraim Irrigation Co. canals and the rest on the tunnel. The request was funded for $1 million.
In 2015, the project got a huge boost when the Utah Division of Water Resource awarded a loan to the irrigation company. The final amount was $2.15 million.
Meanwhile, the city and irrigation company agreed to put a combined $330,000 of their own money and in-kind labor toward the project.
Those sources were enough for engineering and construction on the tunnel itself. By fall 2015, drawings were complete. A preconstruction meeting attracted 18 companies. The next spring, bids were opened and the contract for tunnel work was awarded to J.W. Fowler of Oregon.
But Ephraim City still didn’t have funding for the final critical piece of the project—the culinary water pipeline. In early 2016, the Utah Community Impact Board had awarded $690,000 to the city, half grant and half loan, to pay for the mile-plus pipeline. Kimball says the city hasn’t decided whether to make the work a change order to the existing contract with J.W. Fowler or put it out for separate bid.
At the same time the city and irrigation company were applying for funding, Kimball, Franson Engineers and others were trying to figure out how to fix the tunnel.
“Do we pipe it, do we try to replace the wood, do we put concrete in it, or do we just clean it out an hope it lasts?…We did a lot of sitting around trying to brainstorm ideas,” Kimball says. “I can’t tell you how many meetings I went to.”
After meetings, the engineers would say, “Let’s go home and sleep on it and decide if it’s a good idea or not.”
Ultimately, they decided to run a 54-inch, galvanized and poly-lined steel pipe the length of the tunnel. That left a significantly smaller crawl space for maintenance workers than the original 78-inch tunnel.
But 54 inches was the largest pipe that would fit through the whole tunnel, including the existing concrete lined sections, yet leave room for the existing culinary water line, which ran along floor of the original tunnel in some places and along the wall in others.
In fact, the contractor has had to dig parts of the existing tunnel floor deeper and lower sections of the current culinary pipe in order to get the new 54-inch galvanized pipe through the tunnel without bumping into the water pipe.
“There have just been a lot of moving pieces to the project that have been hard to pin down,” Kimball says.
To reinforce the tunnel, engineers decided to backfill the space between the new pipe and the original tunnel walls, ceiling and floor with concrete. As concrete is poured, it will encase the old, but for a time still functioning, culinary pipe.
The design called for attaching a separate pipe carrying the city culinary water to the inside of the galvanized pipe near the top.
Kimball and others calculated how much the separate pipe would weigh and how much the weight would increase once water was running through it. He worried about changes in temperature causing the pipe to expand, allowing more water through and further increasing the weight. Would the outer pipe be strong enough to hold the smaller one?
“We spent a lot of time stewing over how to make it all work,” he says. “It was definitely a challenge.”
Today, he says he is satisfied that of various options considered, the final design was the one that “had the best lifespan to it.”
The natural features that make the west mountain site so great for water collection make it exceptionally difficult for construction. With huge snowdrifts present well into July, the construction season can’t start until August. By November, the area is snow packed again.
(The late and short construction season has been helpful in keeping up service to the irrigation company. By the time workers arrive in August, most irrigating for the year is done, so after September 1 the irrigation company has permitted the contractor to divert irrigation water that flowed through the tunnel down the east slope of the mountain while the company works on the tunnel.)
In August 2016, J.W. Fowler crews arrived and started working on the first task in tunnel rehabilitation—removing debris from the tunnel floor.
When the tunnel was built in 1937, rails for train cars were installed along the whole 1.5 miles. J.W. Fowler brought in a small electric locomotive that could pull a couple of small freight cars. Three or four workers rode the freight cars into the tunnel, pitched debris into the cars and sent the cars back out of the tunnel.
When the job started, the contractor expected it to be complete this year. But debris removal took most of two construction season.
Finally, toward the end of October 2017, after the first snowstorm on the mountain, the contractor was ready to put in the first span galvanized pipe. Truckload after truckload of pipe was brought up Ephraim Canyon and along steep dirt roads to the site. “It’s pretty tight in a few spots to pull that big truck in there,” Kimball says.
The pipe is being installed beginning at the end of the tunnel and moving east toward the entrance. A span of pipe is put on a small flatbed rail car and walked by hand to the back of the tunnel. Then concrete is pumped through scores of connected hoses to the back of the tunnel and released into the space between the 54-inch pipe and the original tunnel walls. J.W. Fowler was able to get 470 feet of pipe, about 7 percent of the total, installed this year.
However, everyone involved hopes next year will be the charm. They expect the whole project, including the new culinary line, to be completed by the end of 2018.
Kimball was nine years into his civil engineering career when the tunnel project came up. But he says nothing could have prepared him for the complexities and intricacies of the project.
“I never had a course on tunnel retrofit in school, that’s for sure,” he says. “I had no vision for tunnel work when I came here. I didn’t know that was part of my job description.”
Although many of his associates give him a lot of the credit, he says the life of the Ephraim Tunnel has been extended because a number of talented people put their heads together. “I’ve been one player of many,” he says. “I’m just one piece of the puzzle.”