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Another sign of deepening drought: Sugar House Park’s pond is being drained

The creek feeding the popular feature has run dry, and managers don’t want stagnant water to become a hotbed for avian disease.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County begins draining Sugar House Park's pond early due to dry conditions and to prevent wild birds from getting sick as seen on Monday, July 19, 2021.

In an effort to help wild birds, and with Parleys Creek completely dry due to Utah’s withering drought, Salt Lake County is draining Sugar House Park’s popular pond early.

“The gates were opened this morning,” Parks and Recreation Associate Director Patrick Leary said Monday. “It’s draining as we speak.”

Park managers typically drain the pond in the fall, but with fresh water no longer feeding it this summer, officials opted to clear it out early to avoid the conditions that cause diseases to spread.

“I don’t think we’ve ever done it this early in the season,” Leary said.

Hot, stagnant water causes outbreaks of avian botulism, a bacterial disease that infects the nerves and muscles of ducks, geese and other waterfowl, slowly killing them.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Birds forage for food along the muddy bottom that remains of Sugar House Park's pond as Salt Lake County begins draining the water due to dry conditions and to prevent wild birds from getting sick as seen Monday, July 19, 2021.

Outbreaks previously wiped out flocks at Sugar House Park during the summer heat in 2012 and 2015. Officials took steps in 2018 to dredge the pond in 2018 to prevent more outbreaks. But a deeper pond proved no match for 2021′s persistent drought, which is desiccating bodies of water and reservoirs, large and small, across the state.

“We’re being conservative with water use in general,” Leary said. “It’s hot and dry out there.”

Park officials noted in a news release that the pond poses no threat to human health or to pets.

As water levels dropped in the pond Monday, some visitors raised alarms about stranded ducklings that were unable to fly to other waters.

“The ducklings will hunker down and do their best in the vegetation adjacent to the dried creek,” Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation spokesman Clayton Scrivner wrote in an email. “Ducklings have a keen ability to recognize and follow family — a skill that reduces the risk of them wandering into danger.”

Those who find ducklings stuck in storm drains can call the Division of Wildlife Resources at 801-491-5678.

Scrivner added that one of the best ways for park visitors to protect ducks is to keep their dogs on a leash.

“We appreciate the concerns about the ducklings,” he said. “Sadly, the drought is impacting wildlife all over the West, not just in urban areas.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County begins draining Sugar House Park's pond early due to dry conditions and to prevent wild birds from getting sick as seen Monday, July 19, 2021.

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