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Low water levels at reservoirs may lead to improvements

By Sun Advocate

The dam at Ferron Reservoir has been a big problem for years. Despite reconstruction and recurrent repair projects, the dam continues to leak. It goes without saying that the presence of a leaky dam high above the rural Utah community of Ferron is a serious safety concern.
In the past several years, water levels have been held at a low water level to facilitate repair work and reduce the threat of dam failure.
This summer, the Division of Wildlife Resources plans to remove the dam’s riprap and doze the top five feet of the structure over the face to widen the dam and reduce the safety risk. A concrete spillway will be constructed at the same time.
To minimize future leaking, a liner will be installed on the inside of the dam, after which the riprap will be replaced.
After completion, the reservoir’s water level will be reduced by 10 feet, compared to its previous full pool elevation. Therefore, the drop in elevation will reduce the surface acreage by 40 percent.
Despite the change, the reservoir will remain deep enough to overwinter fish and maintain the fishery.
In order to understand why the DWR chemically removed the fish from Duck Fork Reservoir, anglers need to know a little background information.
The Colorado River cutthroat trout, the only true native trout that originally occupied lakes and streams within the Colorado River Basin, is the subject of increasing concern. Because of dramatically dwindling populations, this subspecies has been proposed for listing under the threatened and endangered species act.
If the Colorado River cutthroat trout were listed, DWR’s management of the sport fishery within the Colorado River Basin would become secondary to the protection of this trout.
Under the threatened and endangered species act, fishing regulations and hatchery stocking would have to change. This could involve limited or no stocking of hatchery-raised fish.
Regulations would also have to be structured to prevent anglers from accidentally taking one of these trout.
Waters in southeastern Utah, which now have a four trout limit and allow for natural bait, may have to be managed more restrictively with mandatory catch-and-release, artificial fly-only restrictions. The DWR is doing all it can to prevent that from happening.
Fisheries biologists have been aggressively sampling all southeastern Utah waters to locate the few populations remaining. In addition, DWR biologists have been surveying potential sites for possible egg collection and brood fish-rearing.
This is where Duck Fork Reservoir comes in.
Habitat conditions seem right at Duck Fork Reservoir, which could be the ace in the hole to prevent listing or mitigate against the consequences of listing.
Before the reservoir could be used for rearing brood stock and providing nursery habitat, all resident fish had to be removed to prevent the possibility of hybridization and gene pool contamination.
However, that doesn’t mean the end of sport fishing at Duck Fork Reservoir. To provide for continued angler use, the DWR will plant tiger trout this summer and thereafter.
Tiger trout, being sterile, won’t affect the gene pool. They fight well and put on flesh quickly. The tigers will go in as fingerlings this year and may be big enough for good fishing action in 2004.
In order to succeed, the DWR needs residents help and cooperation. If one or more rogue anglers decide to restock Duck Fork Reservoir with rainbow, brook trout, or anything else, the project will fail. If the project fails, all Utahns may have to suffer the consequences.
Recreationalists are encouraged to watch for illegal stocking or other activities which could compromise the reservoir’s value in keeping the Colorado River cutthroat from being listed as threatened or endangered.

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