What’s next for the Jordan River? More and cleaner water.

New vision and watershed effort will tidy up stormwater and bring more amenities.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The sky is reflected on the slow-moving waters of the Jordan River near the Cornell Wetland Area in Rose Park on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. A pilot program incorporates stormwater management and treatment to help filter, clean and aerate stormwater, together with a riparian flood plain and upland restoration, incorporating new education and interpretive boardwalks and lookouts to create a unique community green space along the river.

A patch of green space along the Jordan River in Rose Park was once deemed “forgotten” but now, after three years of construction, community engagement and weed removal, it is an example of how to help preserve and cleanse the waterway.

Salt Lake City’s Rose Park-Jordan River Watershed Project, located at 1000 North and Cornell Street, was completed this year. The facility’s goal is to improve the water quality of urban runoff. It incorporates technology, such as lift station pumps and hydrodynamic separators to clean pollutants. The city also included cascades to add oxygen to the water and expanded land areas to further treat water before it enters the river.

Such efforts align with the vision various municipalities and entities have for the Jordan River in the Blueprint Jordan River Refresh, an update of a 2008 plan to make the corridor a vital amenity for communities.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People tour the Cornell Wetland Area and learn about the Rose Park Jordan River Watershed Project on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022.

What ranked highest among the river’s neighbors and users? Water quality and quantity, maintenance and cleaning, and safety.

The Rose Park project is an “innovative way to think about managing stormwater,” Soren Simonsen, executive director of the Jordan River Commission, said Thursday. “These new basins and aeration and ponds and other facilities will transform how the water from the watershed or from the stormwater system makes its way to the Jordan River in a very different kind of way.”

Help for the Great Salt Lake

Understanding and approaching issues along the Jordan River can enhance the life of the Great Salt Lake, Simonsen said, by bringing more and cleaner water into the shrinking lake.

Facing new challenges and new priorities, said Ari Bruening, CEO of Envision Utah, the 2008 river plan needed an update.

“[The Jordan River] is a center for outdoor recreation, is the place to recharge and rejuvenate. It has ways to get exercise, and it’s a place even to travel. And so, with this vision, this river can serve all of those purposes, even better than it ever has before.” Bruening said. “Now we have to roll up our sleeves, and we have to make this vision come to pass and leave a wonderful legacy here for our children and grandchildren.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pollinators go about their business on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, at the Rose Park Jordan River Watershed Project, a joint initiative between Salt Lake City Public Utilities and the Public Lands Department as a way to incorporate stormwater management and treatment to help filter, clean and aerate stormwater before it enters the Jordan River.

One of the issues for Jordan River is E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination, said Jodi Gardberg, manager of the Division of Water Quality’s watershed protection section. Another concern is the amount of dissolved oxygen necessary to sustain aquatic life in the lower reaches.

For E. coli, the division is working with municipalities to implement best practices, including education programs for pet waste disposal and enhanced street sweeping, Gardberg said. The state agency is also examining ways to augment flows to improve dissolved oxygen levels.

The refreshed blueprint also includes plans to preserve and expand the flood plain and to better prepare for extreme weather from climate change. It also incorporates guidance for growth adjacent to the river, including The Point, the massive development planned in Draper at the site of the former state prison.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People tour bio-detention channels filled with flowering plants that are the first step in filtering debris and sediments from storm water runoff before it gets to the Jordan River. On Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, people got a tour of the Cornell Wetland Area and learned about the Rose Park Jordan River Watershed Project.

Get to the River Festival

While residents wait for the full vision to blossom, they can engage with the river as it is today.

The commission kicked off the ninth Get to the River Festival, a series of events running along the Jordan River through September.

Every Friday of the month, there will be paddling on different sections of the river. It starts this Friday at 4 p.m. at Inlet Park in Saratoga Springs.

The festival also includes tree planting, weed pulling and plucking up litter, along with bird-watching, wildlife spotting and other recreation activities.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People tour the Cornell Wetland Area and learn about the Rose Park Jordan River Watershed Project on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022.

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.