Several Salt Lake residents who live near the Jordan River told park and water officials Thursday their west-side neighborhoods are ignored and demanded that the river be cleaned.
But the residents were told they are the ones who must take the initiative by organizing clean-up projects and lobbying elected officials for funds."We can't keep up with all the junk that's thrown in the river. There's no way. That's what the people who live along the river have to do," said Bard Ferrin, Jordan State Park superintendent.
Ferrin said that between June and September, three employees spend a half day each week cleaning debris from the river. Until 1982, 20 employees worked on cleaning the river, but lack of funding has cut back upkeep and developments.
Residents complained that their area is particularly ignored and asked for their "fair share" of a clean river.
"Why is it the west-side neighborhoods always have the garbage?" said Michael Ortega, community organizer of the Salt Lake Citizens Congress. "You go north and you go south and it's much cleaner."
But Ferrin denied that more effort is spent cleaning one area over another. "It's exactly the same care," he said.
Steve Jensen, water quality planning coordinator of the Salt Lake City/County Health Department, told the gathering of about 50 residents that while the river is not safe for swimming, it is safe for fish and other aquatic life.
"We still have a bacteria problem on the lower part of the river, though. We don't know why," he said, adding that storm drains and illegal dumping are causing some of those problems.
Residents were asked to watch for those who throw things into the river and to report illegal dumping to state park officials who, in turn, will investigate.
Ferrin agreed that the west-side areas of the Jordan River have been neglected when compared to what's been done in the Rose Park area, but said it's up to the residents to fight for improvements along the river.
"What we need to do is get you all together and lobby the state and the city," he said. "If the people who live along the river will get organized and talk to their councilmen . . . that's when it will get done."
But not everyone was quick to attack Ferrin, Jensen and environmental scientist Roy Gunnell. Great strides in the cleanliness of the river have been made, said Richard Bernot, who raises ducks and geese along the river. "Four years ago the ducks smelled and now they don't," he said, adding that a larger number and wider variety of fish are caught in the river each year.
"They (residents) need to realize that the people they're arguing with want what they want and should work together," said Trish DeYoung, the organizer of a Jordan River canoe trip for handicapped people next fall.
Residents at the meeting agreed to meet and organize a volunteer clean-up project on April 27 and most people walked away feeling something had been accomplished.
"I think the residents were successful in pushing these governmental officials into a higher gear," Ortega said.