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Jed Boal ReportingWork has started on a Salt Lake County dam that will not only improve its safety, but help an endangered fish in Utah County. The road to recovery is a long trip for the June sucker.
The June Sucker is not exactly good eating or a sport fish, but Native Americans and Pioneers were not that picky.
Reed Harris, June Sucker Recovery Program: "It's very important that we protect part of our heritage, it's a stewardship issue."
Now the suckers in Red Butte Reservoir will play the key role as the June Sucker Recovery Program tries to replenish the population in Utah Lake.
Reed Harris: "June Sucker is indigenous to Utah Lake. It's found in no other place, and that's where it needs to be saved, in Utah Lake."
The June Sucker was federally listed as an endangered species in 1986. 12 years ago more than three-thousand June suckers were introduced to Red Butte Reservoir; they did surprisingly well and quadrupled their population. But the 75-year old dam does not comply with safety standards and needs to be rebuilt.
David Pitcher, Chief Engineer: "It's a high priority to take care of the dam to preserve the reservoir."
Reed Harris: "The fish that we get out of here, we'll take to Utah Lake, add to the numbers in Utah Lake, and help us long term in the recovery of June Sucker."
In the coming weeks crews will remove all of the suckers they can and drain the reservoir. They'll mark the fish and monitor their growth in Utah Lake. As for the dam, the spillway and the earthen dam will be rebuilt to modern code.
David Pitcher: "This insures the safety and reliability of the structure, even during an earthquake event."
Draining the reservoir also helps solve another problem. Some years back, the crayfish was illegally introduced to the reservoir. Draining the reservoir will enable them to get rid of the pesky crustaceans. They don't threaten the fish, but do threaten the ecosystem.
Terry Hickman, Environmental Program Manager, Central Utah Water Conservancy District: "Everything we do here is going to be dictated by the June Sucker, as far as managing the reservoir."
Red Butte Reservoir will be the primary holding place for the June sucker recovery, a place without predators where the endangered fish thrive. The crayfish are being fed to some of the animals at the Hogle Zoo, such as the otter.