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South Salt Lake • A field of weeds at the Salt Lake County Jail has been transformed into a fish pond designed to save a threatened species, as well as provide science education and job training to inmates.

On Friday, 5,000 least chub, a small minnow found only in Utah, were introduced into the newly created half-acre pond.

The fish later will be introduced at Mona Springs, in Juab County, which has one of the six remaining wild populations of least chub, and used as broodstock for future sites similar to the pond.

The least chub eat mosquito larvae and will be part of mosquito abatement efforts throughout the state. Prisoners who participate in the jail's horticulture program will help maintain the pond and fish, a task that will teach them new skills.

Sheriff Jim Winder said inmates and the environment will get a boost from the pond, which was created in partnership with University of Utah INSPIRE (Initiative to Bring Science Programs to the Incarcerated) and the Division of Wildlife Resources. "We're doing this to change human beings, to change the world," Winder said of the project.

Nalini Nadkarni, a U. biology professor, said one of the most powerful features of INSPIRE is that it provides an opportunity "to contribute to something as big as the health of Utah's streams and waterways."

"Inmates are going to do big things, thanks to a little fish," Nadkarni added.

The project has been in the works for about two years and the initial cost of $175,000 came from a prisoner services fund that contains a percentage of the revenue from the jail commissary, according to sheriff's officials.

Inmate Josh Beeny who participates in the horticulture program, which includes working in the garden at the jail, said he was excited about the pond project.

"I've never done anything like this so I thought it would be a good opportunity," Beeny said.

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC