By Herald Editorial, Herald Extra
A tiny population of fish in Utah Lake is causing major changes in Utah County — mostly for the good.
We’ve been impressed with the process to save the fish while at the same time considering the needs of the landowners affected most.
Efforts to save the endangered June sucker, which is found naturally only in Utah Lake, are well under way.
The most significant change we’ll see here in Utah County is the rerouting of the Provo River where it enters the lake.
If you’ve walked or ridden the Provo River trail, you know that it winds through a shaded forest canopy as it approaches the lake. Most of that will remain, but engineers are planning to divert the last mile or so of the river north through what is now private land.
The result will be the formation of a delta into the lake that creates better spawning grounds for the fish.
It also will result in more recreation areas for visitors through a series of trails and access to natural areas.
Many people have been involved in the development of the plan, including the private property owners.
Utah County Commissioner Larry Ellertson, who has worked with federal officials and local landowners said last week he believes landowners feel they had a voice in developing the plan and officials changed plans to better suit property owners.
“It doesn’t mean they [landowners] are necessarily extremely pleased with the situation,” he added, “but I feel they have been pleased with the process and have been listened to.”
One question that has yet to be determined is the effect the delta project will have on air traffic at the Provo Airport. More wildlife habitat is likely to increase the number of birds in the area, although initial reports don’t show a significant threat to airplanes.
The environmental impact statement includes a plan to study bird-plane issues and says mitigation efforts would be put in place if they become necessary.
In Springville, the newly created Bartholomew Park was a direct result of the June sucker issue. Water flowing down Hobble Creek is diverted for the 3-acre pond, where it can be stored to ensure that spawning fish have the needed water flow.
The park, which will open to the public on June 13, includes trails, fishing, picnic shelters and plenty of outdoor space.
Above all though, the changes taking place to help the fish, will in fact help the fish.
The population of fish in Utah Lake was as low as 1,000 recently, down from the millions that existed in the 1800s, according to the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program.
The fish was first listed as endangered in 1986 after lake conditions nearly destroyed the natural habitat. Another major factor was the competition with non-native fish in the lake.
Since that time, habitat has greatly improved, giving the fish a chance, and the delta project hopes to improve it even more.
Although most anglers consider the June sucker a trash fish with little to no value as a game fish, it is endemic to the lake; and bringing the fish back is a signal that the health of the lake is improving.
Sarah Seegert, June sucker biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said last week that anything done to help the June sucker will also help the entire lake and ecosystem.
We hope to see this project to help the June sucker continue in a way that it helps the fish and benefits residents of the Utah Valley.