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July 17, 2015

Guest Blog: Jordan River Rehabilitation by U of U Professional Writing

The Jordan River runs fifty miles from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake. It runs through the heart of Salt Lake, and northern Utah County. Those two counties combined total more than 1.5 million people, all of which are very close to the Jordan River. Many different species of animals such as reptiles, birds, fish, amphibians, mammals, and other organisms (including humans) in the animal kingdom call the Jordan River home. The river serves many purposes in our society and culture, but over the decades the river has also been abused and mistreated. This mistreatment has not gone un-noticed. People are banding together to clean up our river and make sure it becomes one of the jewels of northern Utah.   
Like most urban rivers on earth, the Jordan River has been heavily polluted. Throughout much of its length it is identified as a diminished waterway due to known concentrations of fecal coliform and other key indicators of pollution. Along with the untreated sewage, farm waste run off and hazardous chemical deposits from past mining operations have leaked into the river resulting in elevated levels of toxins such as arsenic, sulfates, and various heavy metals. The effects of these toxins have not remained isolated to water quality, but have also become detrimental to avian, amphibian, reptilian, and mammalian ecosystems. When looking at the Jordan River today, it is murky and obviously thick with sedimentation and algae growth. Fortunately, there have been a variety of efforts in the past few years to rectify this.

 New laws and regulations have been implemented in an attempt to clean up the waterway and consequently the surrounding ecosystem. Organizations such as The Department for Environmental Quality as well as The Utah Division of Water Quality have been monitoring water quality and enforcing regulations to better maintain it. For example, much of the Wasatch Mountain range is considered a watershed whose waters are protected under category 1 and 2 water restrictions. This means the waters are of “exceptional recreational or ecological significance” and will be kept to a high standard of purity. To achieve this canine and motorized recreational vehicle contamination are restricted, resulting in a more pure water supply. However, other water sources have not been as fortunate. Past toxic waste contamination from Kennecott Copper Mine has made its way into the Jordan River drainage area, releasing high levels of toxins into the surrounding areas. Since then a Reverse Osmosis water treatment facility was built, provoked by past failed attempts at purifying the water by use of conventional methods.

There are currently a variety of projects working to restore the Jordan River Parkway’s natural beauty. The 900 S Oxbow Restoration and Enhancement Project aims to build multiple
ecotones, a transitional area between two ecosystems, at the intersection of the Jordan River Parkway and the 9line regional trail. These ecotones will provide a higher quality and more diverse habitat for the various wildlife living along the Jordan River. The Big Ben Habitat Restoration Project is currently restoring 70 acres of wildlife habitat for migratory birds by reconnecting the floodplain area with the Jordan River. Upon completion, the restoration of the floodplain will reduce the amount of erosion by the river and provide a retention basin, reducing the risk of flood in the area.
All of this work will be insignificant if we do not learn from our past mistakes which jeopardized the river in the first place. Fortunately, there is a multitude of resources to help educate our younger generations about the importance of the Jordan River ecosystem. The Center for Documentary Expression and Art’s Exhibits that Teach Reawakened Beauty curriculum offers schools an 8 week residency program for grades 7 through 12. During the 8 weeks an artist, ecologist, and scholar help educate students about the Jordan River through hands-on work at the river. Additionally, the Center for the Living City, YouthCity, and the Utah Lake Commission all offer a variety of curriculums and lesson plans about our local water sources which teachers can easily use in their own classrooms. Information regarding the scientific aspects of the river is also available. Utah Water Watch offers a program which stresses the importance of water quality and promotes stewardship of Utah’s aquatic resources. Citizen Science with the Tracy Aviary educate the public about Utah birds, their habitats, and their importance in relation to Jordan River ecosystems.

In addition to this community education, efforts are being made to get the local Jordan River community involved with their environment. The Jordan River Commission facilitate river cleanup and weed pulling volunteer events for the community each year. Since 2012 there has been nearly 10,000 hours of trail-side volunteer time logged, in which volunteers have removed over 34,500 pounds of trash. Volunteers are not only cleaning the river water but are planting native trees, shrubs, and grasses along the Jordan River bank. This practice helps reinforce the integrity of the river banks as well as native plant populations. There has been over 900 new native trees, shrubs, and grasses planted to date. If you would like to join these efforts in cleaning up the Jordan River area contact the Jordan River Commission. They offer volunteer programs from April 1st through October 30th each year. They will provide you with tools, gloves, water, trash bags and snacks.

There have been great efforts made to restore the Jordan River to its original beauty but without the continued effort of the Jordan River community, that beauty may once again be lost. If you would like to learn more about the Jordan River or would like to start helping yourself, contact any of the organizations below.

Written by: David Petersen, James Thomas, Saena Fukui, Kurtis Prewett, and Valeriya Yukhimova 


1)Bureau, U.S. Census. State & County Quickfacts. 28 05 2015. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/49/49035.html.

2) O'Donoghue, Joi. "Jordan River cleanup monumental, but not impossible." Deseret News 10 August 2011.

3) http://jordanrivercommission.com/restoration-projects-and-open-space-along-the-jordan-river/

4) http://jordanrivercommission.com/teacher-resources/

5) http://jordanrivercommission.com/be-a-citizen-scientist/

6) http://www.rules.utah.gov/publicat/code/r317/r317-002.htm

Contact information:

Utah Water Watch. Brian Green (435) 797-2580 brain.green@usu.edu

Citizen Science with the Tracy Aviary. Carolina Roa (801) 596-8500 carolinar@tracyaviary.org

Jordan River Comission. Holly Newell (317) 694-7945 http://jordanrivercommission.com/contact/

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