The project to restore the Provo River delta can be summed up this way: It's not about saving an ugly fish. It's about restoring an ecosystem.
Nevertheless, the effort to save the endangered June sucker (the ugly fish) is driving the project. The sucker was listed as endangered in 1986, and under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are obliged to try to save it. An essential element of that program is to recreate a Provo River delta on the east side of Utah Lake so that larvae from fish that spawn in the river can survive to adulthood and re-enter the lake.
This will entail reconfiguring the existing deep, man-made channel where the river now flows into the lake and rerouting the water through shallower meanders and among islands to be created to the north. The existing channel is too deep, too cold and too devoid of aquatic plants to allow the infant fish to survive today.
The site of the new delta likely will require condemnation of private property through eminent domain. That naturally has property owners up in arms. Other Provoans are worried what will happen to the existing channel and the trail that runs along it.
A group of property owners took their concerns to the Utah County Commission this week, asking the commission to place about 490 acres of land in an agricultural protection zone. Their goal is to head off the delta reclamation project.
The owners of property whose lands could be taken for a delta restoration and some with property along the last 1.5 miles of the river's channel have grounds for concern. Any taking of that property must include just compensation, as the Constitution requires. What's more, the owners probably are worried about how valuations would be established.
Some just want to be left alone to use their land as they always have.
But before the county commission wades into this fight, everyone who is concerned about the delta restoration should voice those concerns before the draft environmental impact statement is written. Those meetings are just under way and will develop alternatives for how the delta might be re-created. The more good ideas the planners hear, the more creative the plan could be. Perhaps there are ways to minimize or mitigate the effects on property owners while still creating a new delta.
This really is about more than just saving an ugly fish. It's about avoiding costly litigation over the Endangered Species Act and improving the quantity and quality of water in Utah Lake tributaries. Those are worthwhile goals.