This story is part of our Be Water Wise series. Each week we will be educating Utahns on water usage and conservation. This week ABC4 reporter Nate Larsen took a trip into the Weird World of Water to help gather information on Salt Lake’s water source.

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Turning on the faucet or shower in your home may not seem like a big deal to most, but imagine if you turned it on and nothing came out.

While it’s not probable it is possible – but thanks to local water districts and their planning efforts Utahns get clean, drinkable water on demand.

The world of water and the steps to keep it clean may seem, well, a little weird. With water highways to brushes called ‘pigs’ racing through pipes big enough to drive a car through, here’s an inside look into the Weird World of Water and what it all means.

In an undisclosed location near the point of the mountain is the Flow Control Center for the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. Buried deep under the ground are giant ten-foot pipes that bring in enough water for roughly two-thirds of the Salt Lake Valley, or nearly 750,000 people. The water comes into the valley through a partnership with the Provo River aqueduct management. This is the first stop of our water walkthrough.

ABC4 reporter Nate Larsen is dwarfed by the massive size of the pipes bringing water into the Salt Lake Valley.

“This is the nexus, these are the I-15, so to speak, of transporting water into the Salt Lake Valley,” said Wade Tuft, Water Supply Manager for JVWCD. “Pipelines range in size from 78 inches to 120 inches in diameter. They’re very large. They’re pipes that we take down periodically and we can actually walk through them while we inspect them.”

As you can imagine large pipes filled with untreated water can get a build-up of ick and that’s where the giant brushes, or pigs, come into play. The giant blocks of Styrofoam covered in bristles are placed in the pipes upriver from the Flow Control Center with the force of thousands of gallons of water behind it, the pig zooms to the other end cleaning the walls of the pipes as it goes.

This water highway flows way above highway speeds. Tuft reports the flows are currently averaging 50 cubic feet per second or approximately 30 million gallons per day but can reach as much as 270 cubic feet per second or 180 million gallons per day during peak season. The water then is sent to a nearby treatment plant. Which is the next stop in the Weird World of Water. 

Proudly standing over 7-stories high, the Jordan Valley Water Treatment Plant is the largest conventional water treatment plant in the state of Utah. As water enters here it is in for another adventure. Here the water goes through several filtering processes before it’s clean enough to send to Utah homes and businesses.

Massive water filtration systems gurgle and rumble as water flows into backwash systems, through sediment containment fields, and into giant tanks that stir and pull surface contaminants off.

“It’s amazing how many things we’ve got to actually take out of that water in order to make it safe for the public to drink,” reports JVWCD Public Information Officer Cynthia Bee. “We’re removing sediment, but we’re also making sure that there’s no microorganisms and bacteria and things like that in the water that could make you sick.” 

Inside the building on site, there is another Weird Water World dynamic taking place – this involves scientists in lab coats, strange-looking machines, and beakers of water in every color of the rainbow.

It’s not the mad scientist lab from the movies though, these scientists are testing water brought in from water agencies around the Salt Lake Valley to ensure they are meeting EPA standards. The lab can test for hundreds of chemicals but often focuses on fluoride and chloride ions as well as testing for metals.

Paul Mattinson, Lab Director for The JVWCD reports that most agencies are right on target and JVWCD produces award-winning water. When levels are off it is usually very easy for water agencies to make adjustments and even in the past when rumors have circulated that chemical levels were at dangerous levels the labs have proved the water to be within standards and dispelled the rumors.

There are 17 member agencies that get their water from the JWVCD and they of course have to store that clean drinking water somewhere. When driving around the valley you can see large circular water tanks looming just off roadways, but what you don’t see are the underground tanks. Tanks that hold millions of gallons of water.

What’s even rarer is a glimpse at the inside of one of the reservoirs and the surreal appearance of workers with giant hoses cleaning the insides of the tanks to maintain the cleanliness of the water reaching your taps.

These unsung water heroes descend 40-foot ladders into the belly of the drained tank and spend hours scrubbing and rinsing before the tanks are refilled and put back into service.

These are only a few of the steps in The Weird World of Water but even more notable are the employees of the JVWCD who ensure the journey of the water and end results are top-notch. So next time you turn on that tap or enjoy a tall glass of cool water, thank a JVWCD employee.