Floating trash on the Jordan River threatens entire species of waterfowl, but a new project aims to fix that

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Booms along the Jordan RIver at about 1700 West and Center Street in North Salt Lake are collecting trash, especially plastic that makes its way down the Jordan River and into the Great Salt Lake where it kills birds. The Natiure Conservency worked with Salt Lake County and private landowners to install the trash-catching booms. They can then be manually cleaned before it reaches the lake.

It’s not just the oceans that are plagued by plastic — Utah’s inland sea has a trash problem of its own, and conservationists hope that installing a sort of filter on the Jordan River will put a stop to it.

Unveiled Monday, a new floating “trash boom” is being installed on the river above Farmington Bay that will help skim off massive amounts of flowing garbage and debris, preventing it from reaching open waters, sensitive wetlands and bird habitat of the Great Salt Lake.

The lake provides critical migratory habitat for thousands of waterfowl. But it’s also a terminal lake, meaning it is a collection point for most of the runoff from surrounding mountains.

That same collection effect happens with whatever pollutants happen to be floating in local waterways as well. So when residents on the Wasatch Front litter, their trash is often washed out to the Great Salt Lake or one of its adjacent wetlands, where it can strangle or drown curious waterfowl.

The debris problem has worsened in recent years with population growth along the banks of the Jordan River, primarily in Salt Lake County, said Chris Brown, a director of stewardship for The Nature Conservancy in Utah.

On some days, Brown said, so much trash accumulates in the lower reaches of the Jordan that it spans the entire width of the channel.

“The garbage is so large, I think you could walk across it from one side of the river to the other,” Brown said.

This can be a serious danger to the health of certain species of birds, Brown said. In some cases, three fourths of a species’ entire population will stop by the Great Salt Lake at some point during their migration. If the lake is not in good condition, he said, “the whole population could crash.”

But on the flip side, as more and more residents move to the Wasatch Front and seek out recreation opportunities in and around Salt Lake City, that has raised the profile of the Jordan River and brought more attention to the rafts of trash that sometimes float down it.

So about two years ago, The Nature Conservancy and several other interested parties approached Salt Lake County about the possibility of installing the trash boom above Farmington Bay.

The county agreed — and even paid for the $290,000 project.

The boom is now nearly complete, and has been collecting trash for about a week and a half, said Ryan Shelton, a spokesman for Salt Lake County Public Works.

Already, Brown said, the boom has snared a basketball, a tire, several bottles of pills and a gas can. It missed a television that has been floating down the river for some weeks now, he added.

When it’s complete, officials Salt Lake County Public Works will monitor the boom via a webcam so that as it fills with trash, county employees can remove the debris and take it to a landfill or recycling facility, Shelton said.

An opening in the buoy-like barrier, meanwhile, allows passage for boats and kayaks plying the river’s waters.