Preserving The Social And Ecological Values Of A Utah River
In 2011, extensive flooding in Cache Valley caused widespread damage to both buildings and land along the Logan River. This led to the formation of the Logan River Task Force; this group of Utah State University scientists and other experts in riparian and river restoration worked with Logan City and Bio-West, Inc. (a local consulting firm) to develop a long-term restoration plan that prevented flooding while balancing both social and ecological values of the river.
Frank Howe, chairman of the Task Force said, “We developed the Logan River Conservation Action Plan to help ensure people’s property is protected, but we also envisioned the river becoming an amenity for our community – a place where people could enjoying activities in, on, and around the river such as canoeing, hiking, and fishing, or just sitting - enjoying the sights and sounds of the river.”
The Task Force’s first objective was to answer the question, “Why do people value the river?”
With the help of Logan’s citizens, the Task Force developed 22 Indicators of the river’s values. These indicators were essential for creating the Conservation Action Plan and directing restoration activities. People are anxious to avoid flood damage, but they’re also interested in the fish and wildlife the river supports as well as the recreational opportunities it offers.
Logan City Mayor Holly Daines said, “The Logan River Task Force has been really helpful to the city in working on river restoration! Quality of life is such an important part of our community. By expanding trails, and restoring the river wherever possible, we’re [creating] great places where we can enjoy [a] little slice of nature.”
The Task Force’s first restoration effort was a demonstration project at Denzil Stewart Nature Park. Its purpose was to show residents who live along the river how they could enhance their property while providing benefits to the river and their neighbors. “A lot of people have built walls so the river doesn’t flood onto their property”, says Howe. “But this leads to channelization which creates a problem for the [whole] river system. It forces the entire flow of the river into a very confined space. That increases the erosive power of the river which then eats away at personal property and public infrastructure.”
The Stewart Park Project demonstrated that, instead of building walls, if the owner allows occasion flooding onto lower “terraced” areas which are planted with native vegetation, it allows the river to grow a little wider and this, along with the friction from the vegetation, slows the flow and dissipates the energy of the flood through the entire [river] system.
The flagship project of the Task Force was Rendevous Park where the river was rerouted to avoid flood damage to a major highway and railroad. Pools were created in the river to catch sediments that previously plugged the river, causing flooding. Howe explains, “The pools allow sediments to drop out in a very predictable place which can be cleaned out every 5-10 years as sediments build up. These pools also provide excellent fish habitat as well as places for people to float or wade in the river. We removed several acres of non-native vegetation and planted native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers which created habitat for birds and other wildlife. We also added trails that allow people to access the river without disturbing the plantings. In all, we were able to improve 19 of the 22 social and ecological Indicators!”
This approach of balancing social and ecological values in river restoration used by the Logan River Task Force can be applied to rivers throughout Utah.