EPA, Utah DEQ reps laud Clean Water Act, efforts to clean Ogden’s rivers
OGDEN — Thirteen years ago, the Ogden River heading west from Washington Boulevard wasn’t exactly a recreational draw.
“It was basically blight before,” said Justin Anderson, deputy director of the Ogden Public Services Department. “It was concrete, tires and garbage… It just was a place that you didn’t want to come to.”
Fast forward and the mile-long stretch that now winds past a new complex of town homes taking shape on either side of the river just west of Washington Boulevard, High Adventure Park and the 20th Street Walmart has been transformed.
The area around High Adventure Park at 1901 Grant Ave., in particular, is a big draw and a contingent of federal, state and local officials gathered there Monday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. That’s the federal measure that helped fund the $6 million or so in cleanup efforts and other upgrades along the waterway in the early 2010s.
The group also visited Kayak Park along the Weber River in west Ogden, which also received Clean Water Act funds as part of the $1.63 million initiative to upgrade that river segment, largely completed last year.
Radhika Fox, assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water, traveled to Ogden to mark the occasion. Fifty years ago, she noted, pollution in some rivers like the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so intense it led to fires and discolored water. The Clean Water Act has helped reverse that by putting the priority on making U.S. waterways swimmable and fishable, by creating the framework allowing the sort of federal, state and local partnerships required for such efforts.
“We have really had transformational progress because of that work,” she said. Ogden, as a “success story” among the many Clean Water Act initiatives, was picked as one of a handful of sites around the country to showcase as part of on-and-off 50th anniversary events, to culminate next month.
But it’s just one of many sites in Utah that have benefitted from the measure. The Clean Water Act has been “transformational” in Utah, said Kim Shelley, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, who also took part in Monday’s activities.
That said, efforts to upgrade the nation’s waterways aren’t over.
“We still have a long way to go. There still are too many waters that are impaired,” Fox said, alluding to the crisis over lacking clean drinking water in Jackson, Mississippi.
She plugged the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act pushed by the administration of President Joe Biden and said that will help in efforts going forward.
“Let’s have our north star not just be that our waters are fishable and swimmable. Let’s have it be also that regardless of the color of one’s skin, the amount of money they have in their pocket or their zip code, that they will have clean, safe water,” Fox said. “That, I think, is the aspiration in my mind for the next 50 years.”
Fox was also joined by KC Becker, administrator of EPA’s Region 8, which covers six states, including Utah. Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell briefly joined the contingent at High Adventure Park, noting the transformation of the Ogden River in the area. Nearly 2,500 tires were pulled from the waterway as part of cleanup efforts along with thousands of tons of concrete and metal, including several cars.
“This is our vision for what’s happening in our community,” Caldwell said. “We want to protect and take care of (the area’s natural resources).”
Before the change, fish introduced to the Ogden River west of Washington Boulevard either died or left. That’s no longer the case as the water quality has improved dramatically, Anderson said, noting you can now see the river bed. “You didn’t have clarity like that,” he said.
At the Kayak Park, a steep bank on the east side of the Weber River in the location has been leveled and the amenities are much safer for kayakers.
“You come out here on the weekend, you’ll see a lot of people,” Anderson said. An earlier design was problematic, dangerous even, and kayakers had quit using the park.