The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning


Red Butte Creek is one of seven creeks cutting through the Salt Lake Valley, connecting water from Red Butte Canyon to the Jordan River. The creek begins in a protected watershed, with access limited to researchers, and then immediately passes into the highly urban environment of the University of Utah and Salt Lake City. This change from pristine canyon to urban jungle occurs within a three-mile stretch, creating a unique setting to the effect of urbanization on rivers. To better understand this effect on water quality, water samples were collected from storm drain outflows and in-stream locations during precipitation events to quantify the amount and type of pollutants entering Red Butte Creek.

Pollutants Being Tested

Oil and Grease: leaked onto road surfaces from car and truck engines, spilled at fueling stations, and discarded directly onto pavement or into storm sewers.

Heavy Metals: come from car and truck exhaust, worn tires and engine parts, brake linings, weathered paint, and rust. Testing for: Chromium, Copper, Iron, and Manganese.

Nutrients: Excess fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides can be carried by rain waters to the creek. Testing for: Phosphorus and Inorganic Nitrogen

Baseline data gathered on Red Butte Creek water quality show that the creek experiences stormwater pollution during precipitation events. This pollution varies in terms of pollutant type and precipitation event.

  • Precipitation events are correlated with higher concentrations of oil and grease, metals, and nutrients in storm drain outfalls as compared to in-stream locations
  • Concentrations of pollutants are heaviest in the samples taken farthest downstream, suggesting that pollutant concentration increases as urban intensity increases
  • The data produced from this project will enable us to better understand effectiveness of larger restoration projects, such as the Landscape Lab, in improving water quality
  • Development of green infrastructure stormwater management strategies is likely to reduce the effects of the urban stream syndrome, reducing storm pollutant loading in urban creeks and slowing stormwater run-off velocity

Data gathered post-Landscape Lab implementation will further knowledge in this field and provide robust science on the importance of green infrastructure in reducing pollutant load in urban streams.