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New Efforts Aimed at Restoring Nature on the Jordan River

Salt Lake City has put its big open-space bond measure on hold. But that hasn’t dampened enthusiasm throughout the valley for restoring the Jordan River.

Here at Oxbow Nature Park, money from the 2010 Red Butte oil spill has helped build wetlands where railroad cars used to roll by. These meanders and pools now provide habitat for birds and fish and control storm water. And the riverside vegetation helps remove toxic chemicals from the soil.

Ray Wheeler is an environmental activist with a coalition called Nature in the City SLC that wants the natural river ecology to flourish on the Jordan.

“There’s something more important here than economic value or even conveniences like flood control,” he says, “and that is that people love Nature.”

While the city’s $150 million bond proposal is paused, the coalition is mounting a campaign to persuade the public the spending is worthwhile.

Meanwhile, the Jordan River Commission is taking applications through October 1 for pilot projects to restore the beleaguered river. Laura Hanson, the commission’s executive director, wants the river to rise above its reputation as an ugly and dangerous place.

“I think showing projects that say, ‘Hey, here’s a beautiful place that is designed for the community, by the community,’ draws people down. Once people get there, they realize how gorgeous the river corridor is.”

The commission has $500,000 in matching funds to work on river projects, thanks to the Utah Legislature. But for now federal environmental standards deem parts of the Jordan too dirty for fishing and swimming.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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