SALT LAKE CITY — City officials have shut off public access to the Jordan River from 1700 South to 500 North as a result of cleanup efforts due to Saturday's oil spill.
Mayor Ralph Becker stressed the closure was due only to avoid potential interference with the ongoing removal of the oil — not out of public health concerns.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality also released initial test results for petroleum-based compounds in the water, sampled along the Red Butte Canyon oil spill, which it says do not indicate an "immediate threat" to human health or aquatic life.
More extensive testing is being done to determine the full extent of contamination and long-term effects on the environment.
"It appears the most toxic components sampled have dissipated, and we aren't seeing anything acutely harmful to human health or aquatic life based on the data we have so far," said Walt Baker, director of the state's water quality division.
Chevron and multiple federal, state and local agencies are continuing to deal with the aftermath of Saturday's pipeline fracture that sent an estimated 33,000 gallons of oil into Red Butte Creek. The creek then dumps into the lake at Liberty Park and continues on to the Jordan River. The Jordan River flows north into the Great Salt Lake.
Prompted by the detection Saturday of a slight sheen of oil that made its way to the Great Salt Lake, Davis County employees and contractors have placed absorbent booms in three locations to capture what officials say are "negligible" amounts of oil in the water.
"Of course, we knew if it got down into the waterways of Salt Lake City and into the Jordan River, it would roll northward into Davis County and threaten the wetlands, which are pretty sensitive areas," said Davis County Health Department director Lewis Garrett.
Rick Hansen, a state wildlife resources officer, said he responded after he heard about the spill to determine if any of the oil had reached the lake or adjacent wetlands.
"I rushed out to check it out. I just went down to where the Jordan River dumps into Farmington Bay. I saw a sheen on the water, and I am not saying it's from the spill, but it is ironic. I've been out here seven years, and it is the first time I have seen sheen on the water."
Booms were placed at the Davis/Salt Lake County line, at the Legacy refuge area along Legacy Highway and then at the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management preserve.
'We have three lines of defense out, and we are out there several times a day to check," Garrett said. "There is very, very little oil, almost negligible. A little tiny sheen once in awhile comes down, but those booms are holding it."
Another boom was installed Tuesday at Farmington Bay as a precaution, he said, to bring the total to two.
"If this is all we see, we don't have a threat to the wetlands, because the booms are doing a good job of containing it. They have a mess in Salt Lake City, but it is not coming our way much."
Garrett added that he had not seen any wildlife impacted — significant because of the Great Salt Lake's role as a critical migratory flyway for millions of birds.
The health department plans to continue its monitoring over the next week to assure the integrity of the lake and wetlands.
"We will stay on top of it," Garrett said.
Salt Lake City officials, too, said they plan to stay on top of the spill and bring in their own experts to assess the damage.
In the meantime, Chevron reported they've recovered 500 barrels, or about 21,000 gallons of the estimated 33,000 gallons of crude oil that escaped the line through a quarter-sized breach near Red Butte Gardens.
Four days after the spill, residents on Yale and Harvard avenues, streets that sit adjacent to Red Butte Creek, did not find much to complain about other than a few stains alongside the creek bed, as well as an off-and-on smell of oil.
"There has been some aroma, a little bit of a smell," said Yale Avenue resident Ted Evans.
An occasional headache also has been reported by residents of the area.
"Every once in awhile, I'll get a light headache from the smell," said resident Jared Blair.
Overall, there does not seem to be a feeling of worry or panic in the area, and most residents spoken to have been happy with Chevron's efforts in cleaning up its mistake.
Salt Lake City Council members heard a report from Becker and others on the city's response to the initial leak and what plans Chevron has in place to recover as much remaining oil as possible and clean up the residue.
Salt Lake Public Utilities director Jeff Niermeyer told the council that the city has recently contracted for other work with experts in both oil spill mitigation and riparian restoration and intends to bring them in as city advisers while Chevron continues to restore waterways, habitats and private property to pre-spill conditions.
City finance director Gordon Hoskins said the city is closely tracking expenses related to dealing with the leak but has not yet tabulated a total.
Federal investigators joined by Chevron and power utility officials are probing the possibility the pipeline fracture was ultimately caused by a wind storm that knocked a power line into a pole, which then ferried the electrical current to the pipeline, resulting in a hole the size of a quarter.
Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson said the company has received 31 claims from homeowners in the impacted areas.
Contributing: Daniel Ng