Don’t look now, but we may be headed to a compromise between private interests and the federal government to protect a fish — in Utah County.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation has been working with the Central Utah Water Conservancy District and the state Department of Natural Resources to come up with a plan to reroute the Provo River to recreate the historic delta where the river meets Utah Lake. A winding river and marsh-filled delta will provide safe spawning and hatching areas for the June sucker, a fish native only to the lake that all but disappeared in more than a century of human encroachment.
Like Democrats in Orem, the June sucker is an endangered species. As such, the federal Endangered Species Act requires that it be protected, even if that means farmers lose some pasture or a business takes a hit.
That immediately conjures the image of overbearing bureaucrats killing progress in the name of a fish no one wants to catch or eat. (Even the name — June sucker — implies a bottom feeder. In fact, it feeds at mid-level.) The reality is more reflective of a give-and-take process all too absent in politics, even if it took a while to get here.
In scoping hearings two years ago, the project brought scorn from people who were used to walking, biking and fishing around the current river route. An outfitter who rented boats on the current river channel encouraged a protest. And farmers who owned pastures in the former (and perhaps future) delta area objected to losing their land. (It’s worth noting that their pastures sit on what was the historic river delta before the current channel was built. In other words, the fish were there first.)
The bureaucrats took the feedback and came back with a "preferred alternative" that did two things: First, it reduced the amount of farmland needed for the delta to about 300 acres. And, second, it left more water flowing through the current river channel so it can still be used for recreation. The outfitter is on board with the compromise, and he should be. The plan not only preserves his business but it will also likely improve the water quality in that channel.
The plan is now going back out for public review, and, even if it’s approved, there will be further steps required for Congress to fund it. It’s worth doing. Considering all the bloody battles that have come over endangered species protection, this one could be a victory for not just nature but also human nature.
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