Jordan River Commission growing and expanding, according to report
In its annual report, the Jordan River Commission addressed future development and conservation. (Tori La Rue/City Journals)
The Jordan River Commission reported the river continues to grow and flourish thanks to concerted efforts from the commission and its volunteers. The Jordan River Commission gave its annual report to the Draper City Council on Feb. 21 during the council’s study meeting. The report was given by Laura Hanson, the executive director of the Jordan River Commission.
“Once a year, we go around and touch base with all of our member governments and give an update on all the things we’ve been working on,” Hanson said. “Thank you for Draper City’s participation in the Jordan River Commission and especially this year, we’d like to thank Councilmember (Michele) Weeks who is serving as our vice chair.”
The Jordan River Commission is an interlocal volunteer cooperation of cities and counties along the river corridor. The commission currently has 26 member governments. In 2016, six new members were added to the commission.
“We added Midvale and Bluffdale and all four of the waste-water treatment facilities that discharge into the Jordan River. That brings us up to 14 out of the 17 municipalities,” Hanson said. “We would’ve been out of 16 but Millcreek incorporated, which added another city. We’re missing Lehi, Murray and Millcreek. Millcreek has expressed interest in joining. I think we’ll get all three in the next year.”
Aside from the waste-water treatment facilities, other state entities in the commission include the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District and the Utah Transport Authority.
The commission relies heavily upon volunteers to keep the river clean and safe. Since the commission’s inception in 2012, volunteers have logged over 16,000 volunteers hours. These volunteers have removed 110,354 pounds of weeds and planted 1,025 trees. In 2016 alone, volunteers helped restore 50 acres of land.
“We have a very robust volunteer program that just keeps expanding year after year,” Hanson said. “We used to have to recruit people to come out and volunteer along the river corridor. Now they call us, which makes it really easy.”
The commission provides several types of educational services, including a training series on best practices available to the commission member governments. Last year, 120 people were trained in these best practices in two different workshops. The commission is planning on another workshop training about wetland mitigation design.
Another educational service is educational outreach in schools. In 2016, 260 students were engaged in field trips and in-class exercises to teach them about the Jordan River.
“We’ve had a lot of fun with that,” Hanson said.
During the last year, the commission worked hard to raise funds to help with projects along the river corridor. They were able to secure a couple items on the Salt Lake County Parks Bond that was passed in November 2016. This included $2.12 million for the Jordan River Water Trail.
“That would be a series of boat launches up and down the river corridor and new signage,” Hanson said.
Another part of the bond was for $3 million for the restoration of Pioneer Crossing Park in West Valley City near 3300 South.
“This is historically supposedly the place where the settlers of the west side of the valley first crossed the Jordan River to settle over there,” Hanson said. “The bridge crosses the river and there’s a whole restoration project happening there.”
Last year, the commission also lobbied the state legislature for $1.23 million to complete the last gap of the Jordan River Parkway Trail.
“This is from North Temple to 200 South in Salt Lake City. The bridge spans three active freight rail lines, crosses a fourth rail line. The bridge is 1,200 feet long and, as you can imagine, relatively expensive,” Hanson said. “This was just a portion of the cost for the total project. It’s about a $6 million bridge. It’s literally been a dollar here and a dollar there.”
The commission was also contacted by West Valley City to help restore a storm-water pond. The pond had become a magnet for both illegal dumping and homeless camps.
“We applied for a federal grant and we got $60,000 to remove evasive species, re-engineer and lay back the bank of the pond, plant new native vegetation,” Hanson said. “We installed a little trail and nice interpretive signs. We worked with a lot of students to make this happen.”
Councilman Jeff Stenquist said he has heard a number of complaints about homeless people camping along the Jordan River Corridor. Hanson said it’s a challenge because projects like the one in West Valley City that clear out the area also displace people.
“It’s becoming a problem and it’s hard when you’re making such big public-dollar investments in a place where people are nervous to use,” Hanson said.
Mayor Troy Walker asked if there was any law enforcement on the trails along the river. Hanson said it depends on the city. Both Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake have police who regularly patrol the river corridor, but Hanson was unsure if the Unified Police Department had regular patrols.
“But I think that’s part of a conversation that needs to take place,” Hanson said.
A new program that has helped improve safety started this year. Called the Urban Rangers Program, the volunteer force is made up of students from the University of Utah Division of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
“They would go out in pairs and bicycle the river corridor. They had an official-looking uniform but they’re not law enforcement. They are trained not to engage in anything that could be dangerous but to just be a presence on the trail and they would call and report issues if they saw them,” Hanson said. “I’d like to see that program expand because I think it worked well.”
Another major program last year was the work done to eliminate puncture vine, an evasive species of plant whose thorns puncture bicycle tires. The commission is using a kind of weevil not native to Utah that has been tested in controlled environments by the federal government. The weevil burrow into the seed heads of the puncture vine and lay their eggs. As the weevil grows, it eats the seed so it won’t grow into a plant. As a safeguard, the weevil cannot survive freezing temperatures.
“So it becomes a seasonal treatment, which unfortunately makes it an expensive treatment. But they seem to be doing a pretty good job,” Hanson said. “We have some researchers engaged to test the effectiveness of them to see if we’re actually making a difference and if it’s actually worth the cost.”
Moving forward, Hanson said the goals of the commission this year include completing the membership by bringing other cities into the commission, expanding education, outreach and marketing, focusing on restoration and evasive species management and improving the water quality.
For more information about the Jordan River Commission, visit jordanrivercommission.com.