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Multimillion-dollar effort underway to help the Logan River

SALT LAKE CITY — One of northern Utah's most critical rivers is getting a targeted boost to its health in a multimillion-dollar effort to reduce phosphorus, a naturally occurring nutrient that threatens its water quality.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week awarded Utah a little over $1 million, which will add to a million dollars already allocated by the state Water Resources Board to address nutrient pollution in the Bear River watershed.

The money is being directed to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality's nonpoint source pollution program following the submission and approval of a 31-page application to the federal agency that details issues facing the nearly 54-mile river.

Logan River provides water for municipal water supplies, irrigation, hydropower and is also one of the Intermountain West's premier blue ribbon fisheries, home to brown, rainbow and native Bonneville cutthroat trout.

The river and Cutler Reservoir, which it feeds, are both on the state's list of impaired water bodies because of excess nutrient pollution, specifically phosphorus.

Although naturally part of aquatic ecosystems, too much nitrogen or phosphorus caused by human activities causes a proliferation of algae, which severely limits or decreases the amount of oxygen in water. The algal blooms not only cause unsightly problems — such as at Utah Lake — but lead to fish kills and pose risks for humans.

A 30-member group that makes up the Logan River Task Force joined with consulting firms and The Nature Conservancy to identify 10 restoration projects along the reaches of the lower section of the river, with goals to improve water quality.

Among them:

• Reduction of bank erosion

• Addressing sedimentation issues

• Improving flood plain and riparian corridor conditions

• Reduction of direct stormwater runoff

Jim Bowcutt, coordinator of the state's nonpoint source pollution program, said many efforts have played out over the years to boost the watershed health in the Bear River drainage, including the Logan River.

"This is not a one and done project," he said. "Our intent is not to put a slug of money in there and walk away and leave our partners high and dry. We have already done a lot of work in the project area."

The state Division of Water Quality has partnered with local conservation districts, farmers and ranchers over the years to improve the watershed.

Much of the work focused on the relocation of animal feed lots adjacent to the river and coordinating with ranchers and farmers on manure management or application of fertilizer.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service worked with a private landowner on a $42,000 project to clear a 1.5-mile stretch of the river of dead trees.

Upcoming restoration efforts plan to tap into "citizen science projects," by enlisting the public help's in programs like Utah Water Watch and others so they are engaged in improving the river's health.

Bowcutt said the state spreads its efforts on nutrient pollution and river drainages among six distinct basins, rotating targeted improvements every six years.

In spring of last year, the Bear River drainage, and specifically the Logan River, was identified as the next recipient of restoration efforts.

Bowcutt said the combination of funding and the breadth of partners invested in improving the river's health bodes well for the Logan River.

"We are very optimistic the Logan River will be removed from the (list) of impaired waterways," he said.