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Deal struck to restore Provo River delta
Utah Lake » Feds scale back plan to re-create delta needed to ensure survival of June suckers.

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"The [lower] river having been channelized for so many years and dredged, it’s one of the deepest parts of the lake," says Mark Holden, a project coordinator with the mitigation commission.

June sucker spawn here every spring, but when the eggs hatch, the current pushes the poor-swimming fry into slack water, where they are an easy meal for the walleye, bass and other species introduced to the lake for anglers.

Provo River meets Utah Lake

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At a glance

Provo River Delta Restoration

Agencies plan to acquire 310 acres where the Provo River meets Utah Lake and restore braided river channels in hopes of saving the endangered June sucker, a native fish that lives in Utah Lake and its tributaries.

An open house will be held on the project April 2 at the Provo City Recreation Center, 320 W. 500 North in Provo 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The public has until May 7 to submit comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement by email to rmingo@usbr.gov.

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Unlike Robins’ calves, larval suckers never survive beyond 20 days. A recreated delta would give these youngsters a place to beef up for two seasons.

"The river is going to spread out. It will have vegetation growing up. It’s going to provide places for those larvae to distribute into to avoid predation," Holden says.

"It’s shallow and warm so there is a lot of production of algae and the zooplankton that feed on the algae. That’s what the June sucker feed on," he says. "They grow quickly. We expect at the end of the first year they will be four to six inches."

Boondoggle or boon? » The project would remove a few thousand feet of berm currently separating Utah Lake from the DeSpain property, according to a draft Environmental Impact Statement released last month. This boggy land, immediately north of Robins’ pasture, would become the delta, along with property to the east owned by the Fisher family.

A new berm, featuring a trail and a viewing tower, would run inland to keep the new delta from spilling south.

Critics still feel the delta restoration is a boondoggle. But they are no longer fighting the project because its current plan poses minimal threat to agriculture and the existing river channel, according to Benjamin Allen, who owns the CLAS ropes course he established 20 years ago on river-front property.

"It’s still a waste of money for the government to spend $100 million when we are trillions in debt and our economy is struggling," says Allen, who also rents canoes and runs cruises. "No one wants that fish. It’s probably not even a separate species. I am reluctant to stop fighting on principle."

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But proponents say the delta project will have benefits far beyond June sucker recovery, a worthy goal in its own right and necessary to ensure federal wildlife officials don’t interfere with water deliveries.

The new proposal guarantees minimum river flows of 10 cubic feet per second in the existing channel and would erect a second dam that would keep the river level constant for a 1.5-mile stretch above Utah Lake State Park. This lower dam will prevent lake water from backing up into the river and enhance recreation.

Meanwhile, the delta would open up new opportunities for hiking, angling and non-motorized boating.

"It brings attention to Utah Lake and what an amenity it really is," Holden says.


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