Provo River Delta connected to Utah Lake after significant restoration efforts

UTAH — Fish and Wildlife in Utah gained a major win Thursday, March 2, when the Provo River was diverted into a restored delta connecting a series of ponds and channels to Utah Lake.

The area is vital habitat for many, but this milestone will have an even greater impact on the now-threatened June sucker fish, a species endemic to the lower Provo River and Utah Lake that was declared endangered in 1986, and was only down-listed in 2021.

The first steps in the Provo River Delta Restoration project were made back in June 2020. Construction of the ponds and channels took three years to complete. Around 23,050 linear feet of the new channel has been built, over 150,000 native plants planted, and 58 acres of habitat seeded and mulched.

Skipper Bay Dike was lowered to allow for a connection between the delta and the lake when levels rise above 4,487 feet. An irrigation well was drilled and insulated to help provide water for the added plants. Invasive plants, such as phragmites, were either contained or controlled at the site. All of this was done in order to reach Thursday’s milestone.

“Diverting the Provo River into the re-created delta is a huge step forward in the effort to recover the threatened June sucker,” said Gene Shawcroft, general manager of the Central Water Conservancy District. “The delta project has been a long time coming and, when completed, will finally open the bottleneck that has kept the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program from successfully re-establishing all June sucker life cycles. The delta will provide the opportunity for successful spawning, rearing and recruiting of new June suckers. The Central Utah Water Conservancy District has been a leader in the June sucker program from its inception and continues to serve as a program partner and a joint lead agency in the Provo River Delta Project.”

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“The release of water into the Provo River Delta Restoration Project area represents a significant milestone in both the project and the recovery of June sucker,” said Mike Mills, executive director of the Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission. “While a great deal of work remains before the delta is finished, we are now even closer to providing essential habitat for June sucker and creating a unique natural area that will benefit all who use Utah Lake.”

Although a big milestone has been reached, there is still more work to do as the 260-acre project located a half-mile from Utah State Lake Park will also have recreational amenities for the public. The work is expected to be completed in 2024, with the area being reopened to the public shortly after.

“Accelerated by historic investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are able to celebrate a major milestone for the Central Utah Project Completion Act,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior. “The reconnection of the Provo River to the delta will help to safeguard the threatened June sucker, expand recreational opportunities for community residents and accelerate efforts underway to expand access to clean, reliable water throughout the region.”

Among the remaining projects to complete are downsizing the existing Provo River between Lakeshore Drive and Lakeview Parkway, the installation of a small dam near Utah Lake State Park for water level maintenance of the existing Lower Provo River Channel, and the construction of berms that will be located on the south edge of the delta. A new Provo River channel east of Lakeview Parkway will also be constructed.

“By taking an ecosystem-based approach grounded in sound science, over the past 20 years, the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program has made tremendous strides towards recovering one of the most imperiled species native to Utah,” said Chris Keleher, program director of the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program. “The effectiveness of the program would not be possible without each of the partners working within their respective authorities to address the threats to June suckers. A major threat has been the lack of habitat for the early life stages of the fish to grow and avoid predators. Thanks to the joint-lead agencies, the restoration of the Provo River Delta project completes this essential element to recovery.”

June Sucker fish.
June Sucker fish. Photo: Courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

The Provo River Delta project, in addition to the work done to help recover the June sucker fish, serves as an example of many stakeholders and organizations from federal, state, and local government entities, private landowners, and other organizations working together to make a positive impact on the environment and the addition to recreational areas for the public to enjoy.

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