OGDEN -- The Ogden River got 1,500 new residents Wednesday as an effort to clean up a 1.1-mile stretch of the waterway and restore habitat along its banks continues to make progress.
Officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources stocked approximately 1,500 mature rainbow trout in the waterway between Washington Boulevard and Wall Avenue, marking a milestone in a nearly year-old effort to return the lower stretch of the river to a more natural state and improve the recreation opportunities it offers.
Brown trout have lived along the lower portion of the river for years, but until now, the more sensitive rainbows have had to be stocked upstream, where the habitat has been more hospitable.
"This project has allowed us to take the opportunity that previously existed upstream and extend it downstream," said DWR biologist Ben Nadolski.
The restoration project on a section of river that runs through the city got under way last December, removing tons of industrial debris and other refuse that had accumulated over decades.
"I've never been on a project where we had to dig so much trash from under the ground," said Crystal Young, engineering representative for Colorado-based River Restoration, the primary consultant on the project.
Crews have strategically placed boulders and other structures in the river to create pools and deeper channels for fish during times of low water flow. Interior floodplains are also being created for both habitat and flood control.
They are also moving the river pathway farther from the riverbank and installing public access points and viewing areas.
"We're trying to make it more user-friendly for all types of recreation," Young said.
Obtaining conservation easements in which landowners have donated or sold land along the river has been key to the overall effort, she said. "That's the greatest restoration achievement, in my mind," Young said. "Now there's enough space for the river to breathe."
Work on the river channel itself is nearing completion. After that, the focus will turn to planting native vegetation to stabilize the riverbank and restore the riparian zone, the scientific term for the lush ribbons of greenery that line waterways in Utah and other places with arid climates.
Riparian zones provide critical habitat for birds and other wildlife. Nadolski said that, while riparian zones make up no more than 1 percent of the land mass in the western United States, they support up to 75 percent of all birds in the region.
Nadolski said the progress so far has been "transformational."
"It's vastly different. We think it improves the quality of life as a community. We're already seeing more people down here. It allows us to build relationships with one another and come into contact with wildlife."
The restoration effort has been a collaboration among various groups and entities, including Ogden city, DWR, the Utah Water Quality Board, Trout Unlimited and others.
Funding has come from a variety of sources.
Most recently, the Water Quality Board awarded the city $1 million last month. The city still has to raise another $1 million to complete the project by late 2011, said City Engineer Justin Anderson.
Work began earlier this year and is about half complete. The total cost will be more than $5 million, Anderson said.
In addition to the $1 million awarded last month, the Water Quality Board has already provided about $1.1 million in federal stimulus funds. The Central Weber Sewer Improvement District has contributed $825,000, and an additional $800,000 is coming from city stormwater improvement bonds.
Weber County and the Habitat Council have each contributed $100,000, and Blue Ribbon Fisheries gave about $50,000.
Young said the project should meet its goal of completion by the end of next year, as long as funding continues to trickle in.
Aside from the sheer scope of the cleanup, she said, another unique aspect of the Ogden River project has been the collaborative effort.
"Because it's such a blighted area, a lot of different people are excited about cleaning it up," she said. "I haven't worked on a project that had so many partners."