Thousands of fish died during Utah reservoir maintenance project


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RICHFIELD — Up to 10,000 fish died near a central Utah reservoir last week during a maintenance project, according to state officials.

Jeremy Willemse of Sanpete County came across the scene as he was hunting. He saw thousands of dead fish downstream from Johnson Reservoir near Fish Lake.

"I've been to San Francisco at the Wharf," he said, "and I've never seen this many dead fish, not even at the market."

"This is mismanagement in my book for sure," Willemse added.

Richard Hepworth, aquatics manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said they expected fish to die but tried to minimize the impact.

They needed to lower the water level to assess the reservoir's lowest outlet structure which functions as a drain. It had not been seen since its installation in the 1960s.

"Nobody really had a great idea what it even looked like or how it was built or what parts may need to be purchased," he said.

They will hire a construction company to work on repairs next year.

Hepworth said many of the fish that died were rough fish and Utah suckers, which are less desirable. DWR has also removed them previously by using chemicals and other means because they can be "problematic from a sport fish standpoint."

"Most of those fish, there wasn't a good reason to save them," he said. "There wasn't a use for them."

Even so, Hepworth said a crew of 10 people worked nearly 10 days to net as many tiger muskies as they could. They relocated about 100 to Navajo Lake.

"It's not a fun thing to ever see," Hepworth said, "so I don't fault the guy at all for being upset and frustrated."

"There's not a lot we could've done, really," he added.

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Michael Locklear

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