Preventing fatalities part of the goal of first Jordan River Comprehensive Management Plan

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SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah -- Stretching 53 miles from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake, the Jordan River cuts through the heart of the quickly-growing Salt Lake Valley.

With development crisscrossing the river, the state is working on its first ever river management plan--and it could save lives.

“There's a pressure to develop along the river corridor, so we just want to make sure that the Jordan River is taken care of,” said Laura Vernon, who works for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands—which is the entity in charge of managing the riverbed.

She said safety is a priority.

"We need to make sure that the river is safe for people to travel down the river, so we would like to identify where those navigational hazards are,” she said.

Even small drops have proven deadly. In 2010, a Sandy couple kayaking the river was killed near 11th West and 66th South after hitting a five-foot drop and getting caught in the undertow.

Some of the answers for the Jordan River will come from a lab at Brigham Young University.

“We recreated a small model of that here in the laboratory, so we could recreate the exact conditions that led to the death,” said Rollin Hotchkiss, a professor at BYU.

Professor Hotchkiss and his team of students examine the water flow of small drop-offs and diversions. They suggested a solution for the area where the Sandy couple died, and construction just began.

Other answers will come from meetings, where the state is collecting opinions on how the river should be managed.

“Do they watch wildlife on the river, do they canoe the river, are they a utility company and they have a structure on the river?” Vernon said of those who attend the meetings.

Once complete, the Jordan River Comprehensive Management Plan will provide a road map for approving developments along the river, and it will also help identify danger zones so they can be studied and fixed.

The State Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands only manages the river bed--water quality and river flows are run by different entities.

For more information on the plan, click here.