Jordan River

The Jordan River is a 51 mile watercourse that flows from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake, though much of its water is withdrawn by humans along its course. More than a million people live within the watershed area that the Jordan drains, and it has been the subject in recent years of cleanup efforts. The discharge at the river’s mouth averages 524 cubic feet, although this varies dramatically with the changing of seasons, the melting of alpine snowpack high above Utah lake, and weather events. The Jordan has provided resources to human communities since time-out-of-memory: an archaeological site along the River dates to 3,000 years ago, when members of the desert archaic culture would have been drawn to the hydrological resources of the Wasatch Front. It was also a resource for Goshute and Western Shoshone people, who called it Pia-Okwai, for “Big River”. When the Mormon pioneers arrived in 1847, settlements sprang up along the River, which could provide water for domestic and irrigation uses, in addition to providing power via the turning of wheels. Over the course of the 20th Century the River became increasingly regulated, with canals, ditiches, dams, and pumps funneling its resources to benefit human communities. Originally a cold-water fishery home to 13 native species including the Bonneville cutthroat trout, today it is considered a warm-water fishery whose most abundant species is the invasive common carp. While the 1960s adoption of the treatment of raw sewage and the regulations springing from the 1970 Clean Water Act have both helped the River, the health of the watercourse is still affected by the legacies of a century and a half of agricultural runoff, mining waste, and untreated raw sewage.


View of construction work around the Jordan River and surrounding area. September 30th, 1954. From the Shipler Commercial Photographers Collection, copyright Utah State Historical Society. 

Goose on sandbar. Since it carries a high sediment load, the Jordan River builds up sandbars. Drop structures, like the one in the background, hinder river navigation, but municipal and county authorities are working on plans to alert boaters and enable them to easily portage around obstacles. Photograph by Craig Denton on May 5th, 2008. Mariott Digital Library. 

Scan of photograph showing Jordan steam station as it appeared in 1905 when a Corlis steam engine turned a 120-pole generator to produce 700 kw, Salt Lake City, Utah. The original Jordan Steam Station was built in 1903 on the east side of the Jordan River near downtown Salt Lake City, and was replaced in 1911. The plant shown in these photos was in turn replaced ca. 1924, and that one was in turn replaced by the Gadsby Jordan plant, built just to the west in the 1950s. From the Rocky Mountain Power Company Photograph Collection, Marriott Digital Library. 

Image shows the Utah Power and Light Company power station and pumping plant at the Jordan River Narrows. November 28th, 1922. From the Shipler Commercial Photographers Collection, copyright Utah State Historical Society. 

Image shows a wagon, some men, and a few horses, working on the banks of the Jordan River, circa 1910. They are working on the early excavation of a new Jordan River dam. From the Salt Lake City Engineers Photograph Collection, Marriott Digital Library. 

Image shows a large water wheel on the Jordan River. August 27th, 1914. From the Shipler Commercial Photographers Collection, Series 1, copyright Utah State Historical Society.