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Jordan River watchdog wants action after drowning deaths

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MURRAY — A Jordan River watchdog is demanding new safety regulations after a couple capsized their kayaks and drowned Sunday in the Jordan River.

Paddlers have pushed to implement a developed safety plan for the river for years and say now is the time to get that done.

The Sandy couple went over a pipeline and waterfall in Murray, flipped, and got sucked into the water by the undertow. Great Salt Lake Keeper Executive Director Jeff Salt says no one seems to know who owns the pipeline or wants to claim responsibility for safety around it.

"The signage and the access point for leaving the river are not adequate," Salt told KSL.

He knows the Jordan River and devoted a decade to its preservation and clean up. He got involved when he nearly drowned after paddling into a submerged hazard with no warning. He counts five fatalities at this one waterfall.

"This is a public waterway," Salt says. "The public has a right to navigate and recreate on this water freely."

Salt considers the pipeline the second greatest hazard on the river — Sunday, it turned fatal.

Joseph and Kelly Glasser put in the river near 11400 South with a friend. When they got to the pipeline at 6600 South, a witness saw them paddle over.

"They made a conscious decision to shoot this hazard, knowing that there was a risk," Salt says.

The witness saw the Glassers go under, but their friend made it over.

Signs warn: "Danger: Drowning hazard ahead." There's even a stop sign.

"The signs are covered up by brush, the bank in the river is not developed into an official portage," Salt says.

He says he's tried for years to find out who owns it. Ultimately, he says the state has jurisdiction over navigable waterways.

Salt also says Salt Lake County knows these hazards and adopted a plan of action, but it has no money for it now.

Murray Mayor Dan Snarr runs the river regularly and says his city improved the crossing for paddlers to portage. He says the municipalities share responsibility for safety.

"People are going to have to be responsible in knowing what they're undertaking and doing," Snarr says. "I don't feel it's responsible to blame anybody for this. It's an unfortunate incident."

The Jordan River Foundation plans to take immediate action and provide seed money for new signs.

Jeff Salt plans to push the Salt Lake County Council Tuesday to enact its plan, which includes better signs, a clear portage and a website that details the hazards.

e-mail: jboal@ksl.com