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Grant to pay for study of the Weber River

Article Date: 
28 August, 2014 - 16:00

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources awarded Trout Unlimited a $17,000 grant for preliminary work on a Weber River design study in Morgan County from the diversion dam at Como Springs into Morgan City, including the stretch of the river near Riverside Park.
The study is slated to begin in October when water levels are lower to fund preliminary conceptual designs for river restoration and will likely involve survey work of the waterway.  
“The project is a cooperative one across the watershed that will benefit fish, wildlife, anglers, recreational water users and agricultural producers,” said Paul Burnett with Trout Unlimited, a nationwide nonprofit organization aiming to conserve and protect cold water habitat.
“We need to have an understanding of all issues at play in the river, and part of that is understanding the physics of the river,” Burnett said.
Dawna Zukirmi said a majority of the land owners have given permission to giving access for the survey work, and are on board with this initial step, which will help answer questions about future river restoration.  The design study could help alleviate issues plaguing residents who own property along public waterways, she said.
“The biggest issues to property owners along the river are trash and trespassing,” said Zukirmi, a member of the Morgan county Swift Water rescue team.  She is employed with a river raft guide company, a county resident and a volunteer community leader intent on protecting the Weber River through the county.
She hopes that studies of the Weber River will increase public awareness so that fishers and water recreationists are aware of private property rights, the proper locations to access the river and penalties for littering.  She said separate plans for a formal park along the Weber River from Henefer to Taggarts would restrict recreationists using pool toys, littering and trespassing.
“Creating a park up higher and doing the restoration project would be a major help with those issues,” she said.
She pointed to the change the East Canyon area went through once it became a state park, and hopes such a change can happen on the Weber River.  In the last decade, she said, the popularity of floating the river has boomed, along with the littering and trespassing issues.  
“The popularity will grow, the problem will get worse, trespassing will get worse, the expense for the county for emergency services will grow if we do nothing,” Zukirmi said.
The design study is definitely something, she said.
Funding for the initial design study is a “baby step” in the grand vision of a multi-million restoration project, Zukirmi said.  Some would like to see a white water park near Riverside Park.  
“There are more and more people climbing on board to support it,” she said.  “It is for the greater good of all the water users,” including those intent on protecting their water rights through the use of irrigation diversion dams.  
Many times, the dams meant to divert water to irrigation systems unintentionally prevent fish from swimming downstream, leading to the demise of species like the Bonneville cutthroat trout.
That is why Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting fish passage habitat, is excited to get funding for the design study.
“We are looking at seeing if there are ways to redevelop irrigation diversion structures to have a smaller effect on the river,” Burnett said.
For example, a “staircase” of four, two-foot drops is preferred to one large eight-foot drop, Burnett said.  The staircase design would still allow irrigation and secondary water users their water rights while at the same time allowing for fish passage, safe boat navigation and reduced maintenance, he said.
Such alternatives can only be identified through the design study.  
“We hope to have several different alternatives we can choose from,” Burnett said.  “Once we have an idea, we can move forward with asking for bigger money.”
The $17,000 grant could lead to a second grant of similar value, Burnett said.  And Zukirmi hopes this initial spark of interest will spark even more in the future.  
“Now that the DWR has invested money into it, I hope support will continue going forward.  I want to keep the momentum going,” Zukirmi said.  “If we come together to make improvements and changes, the Weber River will be a major asset to our community yet to discover its potential.”
The Weber River is the second-most popular river fishery in Utah, second only to the Green River, and provides drinking and irrigation water for about 21 percent of Utah’s population, according to a brochure distributed by Trout Unlimited.
Even if future restoration doesn’t end up happening, Burnett said starting a dialogue about the Weber River was worth it.
“If we do the surveys and find there’s not support, if it doesn’t work, we are not out anything,” Burnett said.  “It started a conversation of river stewardship in town.  That is important.”