The Future of Seven Canyons Fountain
For nearly 30 years, the Seven Canyons Fountain served as one of the most well-known features of Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.
Seven Canyons Fountain was a collaboration between two architects, a landscape architect, and a sculptor-Boyd Blackner, Elizabeth Blackner, Stephen Goldsmith, and John Swain. The team’s idea was to recreate Salt Lake City’s canyons and waterways so people could walk through them. Groupings of rock represent the mountains along the Wasatch Front. Miniature rivers and creeks flow from the canyons – City Creek, Red Butte, Emigration, Parleys, East Mill Creek, Big and Little Cottonwood. They flow into the Jordan River and, later, empty into the Great Salt Lake.
The public art structure was donated to the residents of Salt Lake City in 1993 as a legacy gift from Mr. O.C. Tanner.
Turning Off the Fountain’s Water
In 2017, Salt Lake City leadership made the difficult decision to turn the water off at the fountain.
An April 2017 inspection report issued by the Salt Lake County Department of Health, combined with other concerning maintenance issues at the fountain, made it clear that it was in the public’s best interest to shut off the water to the fountain.
The fountain is now 28 years old and many things have changed since it was first built, such as:
- Salt Lake County Health Department safety standards. In particular; lifeguards are required at publicly funded pools with water greater than 2” deep during open pool hours; public swimming areas greater than 2” deep are required to be fenced so they can be closed to the public when lifeguards are off duty; 3 feet of continuous decking is required around the swim area to keep dirt, organic matter and debris out of the water.
- Trees and brush around the fountain have matured and now drop organic matter, (leaves, pollen and flowers) into the water reducing the chlorine’s ability to clean the water and clogging filters.
- Salt Lake City converted to secondary water for its irrigation system in Liberty Park. Untreated lake water is used to irrigate the grass and trees around the fountain which ends up in the water.
What Happened Between 2017 and 2021?
In 2019, SLC Public Lands was awarded approximately $858,000 in CIP General Funds to go towards restoring the fountain. Utilizing $20K of these funds, a consultant-led feasibility study was conducted to identify solutions for restoration.
This study led to several proposed options for restoring the fountain. The options vary in cost, impact on artwork, and overall water use of the fountain after restoration. The options for restoring the artwork as a recirculating fountain, compliant with Salt Lake County Health Department regulations, would cost significantly more than the $858,000 that was originally awarded. Restoration options with a flow-through water system would use millions more gallons of water annually than the original recirculating fountain or than the proposed dry fountain.
Over the last four years, the City has also furthered its commitment to environmental sustainability and water conservation. As of March 2021, drought conditions were present in 90 percent of the State of Utah, prompting Mayor Erin Mendenhall to issue Stage 1 Advisory of City’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan. Although such drought conditions may not exist every year, the City’s growing population will inevitably require the implementation of strategic and progressive water conservation measures in the future. This fact must be considered when determining what to do with the Seven Canyons Fountain moving forward.
What are the Next Steps?
The City has determined that restoring the fountain as an interactive feature with recirculating water is not a viable option, at least not at its original flow rate. The reasons for this decision include:
- Doing so will cost more than double the current project budget.
- In order to update the fountain to meet Salt Lake County Health Department regulations for interactive, recirculating water features, the original artwork would have to be significantly altered rendering the artwork largely unrecognizable and to the detriment of the artists’ vision and integrity of the aesthetics.
- The City’s commitment to water conservation makes it hard to justify the lower-cost option of converting the fountain to a flow-through system, which would have less impact on the artwork but would use millions more gallons of water per year.
In May of 2021, the City is asked for public feedback on two potential options for the future of the Seven Canyons Fountain:
- Refurbish the artwork and permanently convert it into a dry, interactive art feature.
- Decommission the artwork and request funding from SLC Council to replace it with something different.
The survey found that Salt Lake City residents value the preservation of the Seven Canyons Fountain, but they also want the City to explore options for significantly reducing its water consumption.
In the Fall of 2021, City staff met with members of the original artist team that designed the fountain and landscape architects to explore ways to adapt the interactive art feature to be more sustainable and reflective of the times we live in. This includes looking for ways to significantly reduce water use, incorporate more native waterwise plants, and add interpretive features to tell the story of the seven canyons and our bioregion.
These photos were taken on November 4th, 2021, as City staff met with project stakeholders at the fountain. City staff are now working with the artists and consultants to move forward with a solution that maintains the integrity of the original art as much as possible, while maintaining an ethic of water conservation on the site.
Any future updates about the fountain will be published on this webpage.