Watering at the Cemetery

by Keith Van Otten, Cemetery Sexton

Cemetery Sustainability Champions – This article outlines the unique watering needs of the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Cemetery staff constantly strives to balance the multitude of community needs and care the cemetery requires.

Understanding the Cemetery’s Fascinating Irrigation System – The irrigation system at the Cemetery is unique. In fact, it utilizes large golf course style broadcasting rotors on the edges of the plats. This style of rotor can spray very long distances. Why is this needed? Because the presence of burials prevents irrigation piping from being run through the plats. Sometimes, this results in spray across internal Cemetery roadways. Wherever possible, cemetery staff have eliminated as many of these overspray locations as feasible.

Trees, Trees Everywhere…Plus Turf! – One of many valuable assets at the cemetery is the vast number of trees scattered throughout the Cemetery. In fact, due to the number of tree species present in the Cemetery, the Cemetery was recently accredited as an arboretum. These trees provide valuable habitat, increase the urban forest canopy, reduce run off, reduce the urban heat island effect, and absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide, storing it as carbon. WOW!

Trees require water to stay alive and healthy. Ensuring good watering also helps the trees fight against bark beetles, which has been a prevalent problem in the cemetery over the past several years. While turfgrass can withstand going without much water and bounce back later, trees cannot and will either die or suffer lifelong impacts with underwatering. Due to the nature of the irrigation system in the Cemetery, it is not possible to water just the trees!

The Perpetual Needs Of Perpetual Care – Each time a grave is sold in the cemetery, the cemetery enters a contract for Perpetual Care of the property of the grave. This contract guarantees the purchaser proper care of, and a manicured landscape, within the cemetery grounds, particularly the turf on top of the graves. Imagine how complicated this becomes when we experience…DROUGHT conditions!
We have, by the way, been experiencing drought conditions for the last several years and, in fact, 2022 was a drought year in Utah.

A Delicate Turf Balance – The Cemetery staff constantly balances maintaining the turf to a condition that ensures the cemetery is a comfortable place to visit loved ones while keeping water conservation a top priority and not overwatering.

Turf Turf Everywhere…doing it now…and what this means – To comply with the Perpetual Care Contracts, the Cemetery places sod as early as possible in the year. This year, sod is being placed over an additional 425 graves from
the previous 12 months of burials. By placing the sod as early as possible, the Cemetery is able to take advantage of the spring rainfall. However, additional sod will likely be needed. THIS MEANS…you may see higher levels of turf maintenance and watering at the Cemetery as the turf becomes established…ESPECIALLY in the lead up to Memorial Weekend.

But, this additional water use will be offset by cut backs throughout other areas. And, following Memorial Weekend and, once the sod becoming established, the water will be further cut back.

Not All Land at the Cemetery is Salt Lake City Land – Another important, and perhaps unknown, fact is that there are two areas inside the Salt Lake City Cemetery that are not maintained by Salt Lake City. They are located on the South side of the Cemetery and are highly visible to those traveling or living around the area. These areas use their own water connections and irrigation systems for control. SLC Cemetery staff receives many complaints regarding overwatering in these sections, and both Cemetery staff and Public Utilities continue to reach out to the managers of those areas to help increase awareness and resolve issues.

Taking Technology To A Whole New Level – Soil Moisture The Cemetery uses a computer-based control system to constantly monitor soil moisture. Wow! How? This system:

(1) uses weather data from local weather stations to determine the amount of water needed in the landscape on an hourly basis;

(2) takes into account rainfall, wind, turf type, hill slope, soil type, root depth averages and;

(3) combines many other variables to establish a baseline schedule for nightly watering needs. This sophisticated system limits watering to every other night, however to passersby it may appear that watering occurs every night during the peak of the summer heat. But, watering is NOT happening nightly on the same piece of turf.

  1. Monitoring and How You Can Help – The Salt Lake City Cemetery and the Public Lands Department are committed to making water conservation a top priority. Cemetery staff work closely with the Salt Lake City Public Utilities Department and their Water Conservation staff to ensure the best management practices are constantly being implementing, especially during the ongoing drought conditions.
    In a continual effort to be sustainable stewards of the Cemetery, Cemetery staff: 1. Constantly monitors the landscapes and sprinkler systems,
  2. Implements new maintenance methods and watering technologies wherever possible, and
  3. Strives constantly to balance the multiple needs while providing the community with enjoyable public spaces. HOWEVER
    1. the cemetery covers over 127 acres and the Cemetery staff cannot feasibly check every system for damage or adjustment to the same level as a homeowner. To minimize evaporation and promote conservation, the irrigation systems operate after hours when staff have gone home for the evening.

YOU can help:

  1. REPORT – If you are enjoying the Cemetery and notice an irrigation system problem (a blown head, for example), please let the Cemetery know by:
  2. By visiting https://saltlakecityut.citysourced.com, installing the SLCMOBILE APP on your cellphone, Or 2. Calling the Cemetery: (801) 596-5020, or Send an email to cemetery@slcgov.com.
  3. MOST importantly: Please provide accurate details of the exact location of the issue and if at all possible, provide a photo that includes some background location references to assist staff in locating it out in the field.

Thank you for helping the Cemetery look and operate at its best.

Post Memorial Day Clean Up

Salt Lake City Cemetery
Saturday, June 10, 2023


Mailing Address

Friends of the Salt Lake City Cemetery
250 North N Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84103


Phone & Email

fax to: 801-521-2817


Post Memorial Day Clean Up

Wed, Jun 7, 2023: 6:00PM-8:00PM MDT

Post Memorial Day Clean Up

Thu, Jun 8, 2023: 6:00PM-8:00PM MDT

Post Memorial Day Clean Up

Sat, Jun 10, 2023: 9:00AM-11:00AM MDT


Make a difference with your contribution – together, let’s keep advancing.

About Us

The main goals of the Friends group are to advocate for the cemetery, to engage the public in its history and upkeep, and to help identify and secure funding sources to address some of the needs in the Cemetery’s Master Plan, which was adopted by the City Council in October 2020.

Join the cause

The Friends group works closely with the City’s Public Lands division to identify a number of future volunteer activities to ensure the longevity of this local and national treasure. If you are interested in learning more about the Friends group, or if you have specific expertise that you feel could benefit the Friends group, please complete the form below

A Non-Profit Group

Friends Of The Salt Lake City Cemetery was formed as a non-profit 501c3 organization to help Salt Lake City with managing the largest municipal cemetery in the United States. The cemetery dates back to the mid-1800's when 120 acres were set aside as a permanent city cemetery. The first burial was September 27, 1848.