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State launches planning effort for complicated Jordan River

SALT LAKE CITY — The inherently complicated task of trying to figure out what works best for the 53-mile-long Jordan River may one day be easier as state officials embark on the effort to craft a comprehensive management plan for the river bed.

A series of three meetings that kicks off in Davis County Thursday is part of the initial push to develop a draft plan, slated to be released next spring.

While managing the river for water quality falls to the oversight of one state entity, and the flows to a river commissioner, the actual control of the river bed itself falls to the state Division of Forestry, Fire and Sovereign Lands — which is tasked with regulatory oversight of submerged lands navigable at statehood.

The division has crafted similar plans for Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake, but this is the first time the Jordan River will receive the benefit of a plan designed to streamline management of necessary permits that impact its river bed.

"With increasing development in the Salt Lake City area and on the Wasatch Front, there are increasing pressures to put in pipelines or infrastructure around the river," said Laura Vernon, the division's project manager. "Before (implementation of a management plan), we have to take each application as it comes in and make decisions on it and do site-specific plans on each of the proposed projects."

The plan, once finalized and in effect, will help the division evaluate each application with an eye toward its overall impact on the river bed and identify best practices along the way, she said.

Managing the river and its resources has grown increasingly complicated over the decades, with 15 cities that border the Jordan River and development that has sprung up over time.

Vernon said the pipelines and other infrastructure that have accompanied that urbanization have created challenges or hazards that have their own management concerns.

As an example, a pipeline that cuts across the river at the Winchester bridge at about 6400 South creates a waterfall, and a series of rocks and concrete slab act as natural spillways.

In 2010, a pair of kayakers drowned in the river after going over these structures, becoming trapped in an undertow. Their family sued, reaching a settlement with the state and some of the involved cities that in part requires the hazard be addressed.

Remediation on that section of the river begins next week as a result of the agreement, and the plan — while not a direct result of the litigation — will help identify hazards, correct them and minimize new threats in the future, Vernon said.

"We want to identify areas of the river that are not safe, or not safely navigable," she said.

Vernon urged the public to get involved.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to get people together in the same room and talking about the same resource," she said. "Everybody has their own issue on the river, but they are often not talking together on how to collectively manage it. We are hoping to get the kind of collaboration and information that we can bottle for years to come and keep the discussion going."

Those meetings are:

• 6-8 p.m. Thursday at North Salt Lake City Hall, 10 E. Center.

• 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 16, at the Day Riverside Branch Library, 1575 W. 1000 North.

• 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, June 17, at the Saratoga Springs Fire Department, 995 W. 1200 North.

The planning process also includes an interactive feature on the state's website where people can mark spots along the river where they feel improvements are needed and submit suggestion cards.

Laura Hanson, executive director of the Jordan River Commission, said she hopes a list of capital improvement projects results from the development of the management plan — a list that will provide clear direction for all interested parties.

"Hopefully this will provide some consistency in how the corridor is managed," Hanson said.

While a city or other entity may put in an attractive pedestrian bridge to cross the river, that bridge may not be a suitable height for kayakers and others, she said.

"We want to make sure those bridges are the appropriate height and width, and that any pipeline or other structure going under the river or over the river follow certain standards," Hanson said. "The more people we get down to the river, the more people fall in love with it. As they engage and recreate in the river, we want to make it safe."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

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