Agency History #119


The Big Water town site, originally called Glen Canyon City, was first settled in the 1950s as a construction camp for workers on the Glen Canyon Dam. Operation of the dam as well as the Navajo Power Plant near Page, Arizona sustained Glen Canyon City after the dam's completion. In 1976 Alex Joseph and his extended polygamous family settled in Glen Canyon City because they had been forced off Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land they had unsuccessfully attempted to homestead. Joseph and his group became politically active and successfully petitioned for incorporation. Glen Canyon City was incorporated with a new name, Big Water, on 29 Dec 1983. Alex Joseph became the first mayor.


Although Big Water was incorporated in December 1983, municipal government did not become fully functional until the beginning of the following fiscal year, which was 1 July 1984. On that day the town council proclaimed a "Big Water Zero Centennial Celebration." Utah municipal governments perform numerous functions, including the maintaining of law and order, guarding public health and sanitation, managing public services, and promoting community development. Immediately after incorporation the Big Water town council obtained a postal contract so Big Water could have its own mail delivery. The council began regulating waste disposal at a municipal dump site. The council identified its highest priorities in 1985 as: 1) building roads suitable for other than four wheel drives; 2) building a ball park; 3) building a fire station; and 4) building a town hall and improved health facility. The council began developing the ball park in 1988. During the decade of the 1990s Big Water built a new town hall and fire station. Throughout the 1990s the council worked on town roads. In 2000 Big Water roads were graveled and renamed.

The Big Water council has contracted with GarKane Power and other private companies for electricity and other utilities. Prior to incorporation, the Glen Canyon City Special Service District had developed a culinary water system. After incorporation (ca. 1986), Mayor Alex Joseph appointed himself and other council members to the water board and assumed responsibility for billing. Opposed to Big Water's control of the water district, the Kane County Commission reorganized the board (1992). The town of Big Water countered with a law suit, but control of the Special Service District returned to the county.

Big Water has been highly involved in land issues. The National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management border the town on either side, and the BLM owns 83% (1995) of the land in Big Water city limits. From the beginning the Big Water council has emphasized the need to obtain title to all land within and adjacent to corporate limits, and has expended every effort to accomplish this goal. In 1988 Mayor Alex Joseph threatened to 'raze Kane' by separating Big Water from Kane County and forming Dry Powder County because he felt the county was not supportive enough of his efforts to obtain title to federal land. In 1995 the U.S. Senate approved the "Lake Powell Gateway Community Act," which would have granted land to Big Water "to better enable the town to become a vital gateway to Lake Powell Recreation Area," but the bill was never enacted. President Clinton's subsequent creation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument has strengthened a policy of federal control, especially in Kane County. The Big Water council has remained vigilant and has been watchful of BLM land trades with SITLA (School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration) in the National Monument area.

The council has viewed zoning and development of BLM land as a means of encouraging the BLM to relinquish ownership. Therefore the council has been highly involved in all issues relating to zoning and community planning. The council adopted a zoning ordinance in January 1986 and has continued to revise it. The council has worked hard to develop an attractive community in the wake of poverty, abandoned mobile homes, junk cars, and a general ramshackle appearance. The council declared 1998 as clean up year.

Creation of the National Monument is forcing Big Water to become more involved with state and national agencies. Monument designation effectively stopped coal mining development (by Andalex), which the town council had long supported. Monument management currently provides trash disposal for Big Water. Police and fire protection, as well as road maintenance and improvement, are also being coordinated with other agencies involved in managing the National Monument. In 2000, the Big Water council participated in planning and building a Grand Staircase National Monument visitor's center in Big Water.


Big Water has a traditional municipal government in which a mayor and four council members provide leadership for the community. The mayor, who is elected by general municipal election, is the chief executive officer. He or she presides at city council meetings and supervises all other city officers. He or she signs official contracts as well as city ordinances and resolutions. Utah city councils function as legislative governing bodies, and are responsible for all aspects of community management, such as appointing officials and setting their salaries, levying taxes, establishing a budget, maintaining public services and utilities, and regulating business, building, and other activity within the community.

Big Water municipal politics have been fraught with tension. Some Big Water residents have opposed the leadership of Alex Joseph, a polygamist and a Libertarian, and the appointment of his wives and relatives to municipal offices. In December 1990 Joseph detractors petitioned to disincorporate Big Water. The issue was put to election and Big Water remained incorporated. Internal conflict has continued since Joseph's ten-year tenure. Mayors Thomas Kimble and Fred Colburn resigned in 1999 and 2000, respectively; Colburn walking out of a council meeting because "city government gets no respect." Tonya Graffis (Roseberry), who replaced Colburn, advocated putting aside past differences and bitterness. However, under her administration (2001) dissenters once more unsuccessfully campaigned to disincorporate Big Water.


Immediately after incorporation, the Big Water town council appointed a number of offices, including town attorney, treasurer, recorder/clerk, marshal, justice of the peace, planning director, and building inspector. The council immediately created a planning commission and volunteer fire department, and appointed a board of adjustments in 1986. The town also has hired a post master, a facilities maintenance person, and while the town controlled the water system, someone to handle water bills and read meters. In 1990 the council created the position of administrative assistant, and in 1994 hired a zoning administrator. In 1995-1996 a policies and procedures committee assisted the council in bringing together an indexed policies and procedures manual which is similar in format to codified ordinances.


Alex Joseph 1984, Jan - 1993, Dec
Geraldine Rankin 1994, Jan - 1997, Nov
Thomas Kimble 1997, Dec - 1999, Nov
Fred Colburn 1999, Dec - 2000, Sep
Tonya Roseberry 2000, Oct - 2001, Dec
Will Marshall 2002, Jan -

COMPILED BY: Rosemary Cundiff , May 2003


Big Water (Utah). Council minutes, Utah State Archives, (Series 24190).

Big Water (Utah). General plan, Utah State Archives, (Series 24186).

Big Water (Utah). Planning commission minutes, Utah State Archives, (Series 24188).

Bradley, Martha Sonntag, A History of Kane County. Utah State Historical Society; Kane County Commission (Salt Lake City: 1999).

Deseret News. "Big Water Folks Want to Split Kane, Form Dry Powder County," June 6, 1988; ""Big Water Decides to Remain a Town," December 19, 1990; "Big Water Wants Judge to Decide who Controls its Drinking Water," August 31, 1992; "Kane Revises Panel in Water Dispute," September 21, 1992.

Page Last Updated July 30, 2003 .