DRAPER — Over the past decade, rivers have been making a comeback in urban areas across the globe, and the Jordan River is no exception.
From Mexico City to Los Angeles and even London, projects have been underway to dig up and restore urban arms of rivers long buried in concrete.
These river restoration projects and enhancements have been working to reverse the impacts of urbanization that have — in many cases — tuned river habitats and ecosystems into nothing more than storm water drainage channels.
“Like many communities, we’re rediscovering our river in many ways,” Soren Simonsen, executive director of the Jordan River Commission, said Tuesday at an event at the Jordan River Rotary Park kicking off a 30-day festival to celebrate Utah’s own urban waterway.
The Get to the River Festival, which takes place during the month of September, allows attendees to participate in restoration efforts, educational programs as well as recreational activities such as biking, hiking and floating the river.
“That’s a great month to celebrate, educate and appreciate this beautiful natural resource,” said Trish Buroker, who heads the planning committee for the festival, now in its 11th year.
Restoration efforts for the Jordan River, which winds through 16 Utah cities and three counties, began with a blueprint of the Jordan River corridor finalized in 2008. The plan for the river included the creation of the Jordan River Parkway, a bike and pedestrian friendly walkway that now spans over 40 miles of the river’s banks and was completed just over a year ago.
The commission came to life to implement the blueprint, a plan that was ratified by Davis, Utah and Salt Lake counties as well as Sandy, North Salt Lake and West Valley City by way of an Interlocal Cooperation Agreement in 2010.
Simonsen noted that since the agreement “we’ve accomplished a lot.” Pointing to a portion of the Jordan River Parkway, which crosses through the Rotary Park in Draper, he said, “We’re continuously working on improving and enhancing and maintaining those trails through partnerships with the counties and cities.”
Simonsen noted that the commission is currently working on a number of initiatives to help mitigate the impacts urbanization has had and continues to have on the river.
“As Utah County and Salt Lake County kind of grow together along the Silicon Slopes, the river has the potential to be a great asset.” One of the challenges to this vision, he said, is that particularly in the point of the mountain area, “there’s not much of a river.”
Simonsen said he has cycled the length of the trail four times and has paddled portions of it, but noted that during one of the last expeditions “we ran out of water” near Point of the Mountain. “There literally was not enough water to paddle any longer,” he said.
He praised the legislative efforts of Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, who sponsored a 2019 joint resolution promoting efforts to study the impacts that allowing water users to deposit unused water into a bank during years they do not need it, could have on water preservation. Efforts to draft a 2020 bill that would implement those initiatives are currently underway.
Simonsen said the legislation, if successfully drafted and passed, “would have a lot of benefits for recreation on the Jordan River” by allowing unused water to be diverted to those portions of the river that have been drained by irrigation channels.
He said other improvements the commission is looking to undertake include efforts to filter storm water drainage channels to avoid pollutants and harmful chemicals from reaching the river.
Officials at the event praised sponsors, including Tracy Aviary, which leads a number of educational programs on the river’s ecosystems during the festival. Anne Terry, education manager at the aviary, noted that construction on its new Jordan River Nature Center near 3300 South is currently underway and scheduled for completion in November.
“There’s definitely impacts of urbanization on our birds, but the Jordan River really remains a very important habitat for them,” she said, noting that the aviary currently conducts studies on the impacts of urbanization on the river’s ecosystems.
A full schedule of events for the month of September can be found on the festival’s website, gettotheriver.org.