NORTH SALT LAKE — The new, bright orange trash boom had been floating on the Jordan River for just one week, but by Monday it had already captured a mass of junk.
Among the litter: beer cans, soda cans, pill bottles, a gas can, a volleyball, a basketball, a tire and an array of other plastic items.
"You wouldn't believe the sort of garbage that makes its way downstream," said Ryan Shelton, spokesman for Salt Lake County's public works department.
Chris Brown, director of stewardship for The Nature Conservancy of Utah, said he's even seen a TV among the massive amount of garbage that collects on the banks of the Jordan River, especially at the Burnham Dam and, eventually, the Great Salt Lake.
As it accumulates in Farmington Bay, the trash threatens sensitive wetlands and waterfowl. It's not unusual to see birds strangled by aluminum can rings or other plastic, Brown said.
That's why several years ago The Nature Conservancy of Utah asked Salt Lake County for help, and the county agreed to install the trash boom, meant to catch floating debris before it reaches the Burnham Dam downstream. Salt Lake County contributed $290,000 for design, materials and construction of a rocky ramp for trucks to use for cleanup access.
Anything that floats, Brown said, will hopefully be netted by the trash boom installed last week on the river, just west of the Legacy Preparatory Academy, 1165 W. 3300 North, off the shore of Nature Conservancy land.
"It will make a huge difference," Brown said, noting that an "incredible amount of garbage" accumulates year after year at the Burnham Dam and Great Salt Lake. "This is a big step to say, ‘Let's do what can we do to protect this urban river, and make it better for the citizens of Utah and wildlife.’"
It's not clear exactly how many tons of garbage the boom will collect, but judging from last week's catch, "we're going to be collecting quite a lot," Shelton said.
"It's always unfortunate when riverways become polluted," Shelton said, noting the buildup of garbage is not just from people dumping stuff in the river since storm drains and creeks feed into the Jordan River, bringing any trash in them.
Because the Jordan River is an "urban river," Shelton said, it's an "unfortunate" reality the county must deal with.
The section of the river where the boom was installed acts as a natural border between Salt Lake County and Davis County. Salt Lake County officials chose to invest in the boom because the county "realizes there is a pollution and debris problem in the Jordan River that is dangerous to wildlife and harmful to the environment, Shelton said.6 comments on this story
"Salt Lake County takes very seriously its role to improve environmental quality throughout the valley, not just in Salt Lake County (because) we're all connected in one valley," Shelton said. "Any debris that makes its way into the Jordan River will most likely end up in the wetlands around the Great Salt Lake, so we're trying to mitigate that problem."
Shelton said Salt Lake County flood management staff will be monitoring the boom and clean it out once it's filled. If it works well, Shelton said the county may consider building more trash booms.