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Sam Penrod, Deseret News
Adam Murdock, left, great-great-great-grandson of John Murdock and John Brooke, great-great grandson of John Murdock on Thursday, April 5, 2012, at This Is the Place Heritage Park.

OREM — A $150 million construction project to turn the 21-mile Murdock Canal into an underground pipeline is nearing completion.

Crews are down to their last four sections of pipe in Orem and the pipeline is expected to be operational by May.

The upgrade to the canal — its biggest in more than half a century — should provide water to the Salt Lake Valley for at least another century.

Steve Cain, branch manager with the Provo River Water Users Association, said the pipeline will also reduce the dangers of an open waterway, now surrounded by neighborhoods.

"If the canal was an open canal, during an earthquake it would be a big disaster. The pipeline prevents all of that," Cain said.

John Riggs Murdock, an early pioneer in Utah who settled in Lehi, built the canal to convey water from American Fork Canyon to irrigate his crops and help the people who lived in the area.

"When John Riggs (Murdock) dug it, maybe there was a handful of people, maybe 40 to 50 people, that relied on it. Now there are millions of people along the Wasatch Front that will use this as a major water supply," said project engineer Adam Murdock, a great-great-great-grandson of the original builder.

John Murdock left the Lehi area in 1865, but his son Joseph R. Murdock took over the project. In 1911 he was involved in forming the Provo Reservoir Canal Company, and he extended the canal to the mouth of Provo Canyon.

Then in 1944, the Bureau of Reclamation enlarged the canal as part of the Provo River project. There hasn’t been any significant work done on the waterway until now.

Once the underground pipeline is finished, it will carry 400 million gallons of water from Provo Canyon to the Salt Lake Valley.

"We're still receiving the benefits of the labor that John R. (Murdock) did," said John Brooke, a great-great-grandson of Murdock. "The canal symbolizes that. We're still receiving water that he envisioned coming down that canal when he built it in the early 1850s."

Crews will start testing the pipeline next week. By May 1, the water will start flowing, just in time for the growing season.

Where the open canal used to be, work is under way on a recreational trail. It's anticipated to be finished next spring.

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