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Local conservation group seeks ‘fish ladder’

Posted: Friday, Feb 1st, 2013

Members of the Upper Bear River Trout Unlimited chapter are working to develop a fish ladder project at the city’s old water diversion structure. Courtesy photo

EVANSTON — Representatives from the Upper Bear River chapter of Trout Unlimited presented the Evanston City Council an overview of their efforts to develop a plan for a “fish ladder” that would help native trout traverse the city’s old water diversion structure during the board’s Jan. 29 planning session. The council also received an update on the most recent season at the city-owned Purple Sage Golf Course.

UBRTU President Mark Tesoro told councilors the chapter had conducted a telemetry study of the movement of trout along the Bear, and discovered through that research that the city’s old water intake diversion structure was impeding the movement of the fish as they attempted to look for suitable spawning locations.

“Once we had seen there was a problem with the fish moving up and down the river, allowing them access throughout that whole ecosystem,” Tesoro said, “we thought, ‘maybe there is something we could do about it.’ Ideally, what we would have liked to have done is tear the whole thing out, make sure everyone had the water they wanted, and make it like it originally was. But that’s not feasible.”

The group, as a result, decided to focus on a more viable solution — the construction of a fish ladder at the site.

“If you’re a fish, [the diversion structure] is a significant barrier to getting upstream,” UBRTU Secretary Jim Hissong added. “There’s 60 miles of Bear River above the diversion they would like to get to for their traditional spawning home.”

A fish ladder is essentially a series of “steps” constructed from natural or manmade materials that allows fish to swim or jump over a structure like a dam in order to pass over it. The structure must be built in such a way that it attracts the fish to it, but does not exhaust the fish and thus prevent it from continuing its journey.

“The best plan is to construct a fish ladder at the diversion site,” Hissong asserted. “We’re not going to interrupt any of the water users that are on the pipe. When we started off, we thought there was only one water user, but as we started doing the research — and that was our job — we found out there was a lot more than one. We’re not interested in interrupting anyone’s water supply. We’ve got an opportunity here to build a fish ladder and reconnect the head waters, and not cause any problems.”

Hissong said there are individuals interested in providing grants to make the project come together.

UBRTU representatives noted the fish ladder could be constructed using natural materials quarried from the Kemmerer area, or with “eco blocks,” gigantic concrete blocks fitted together — or a combination of both.

Also of concern with the project is the need to fill a significant area on the north side of the diversion that has been eroded away. Total cost for the project could be as low as $150,000, or as high as $1 million, depending on the amount of repair work needed, according to Hissong. The monies for the project would be raised privately, as city personnel informed the group early on no public funding would be available.

“We’re very excited about it, and I know some people are questioning why there’s so much interest in the fish,” Tesoro said. “Really, there’s not that much fishable water, as far as the public is concerned, other than through the state park and the city of Evanston. The majority of the Bear is private property. We’d like to see people come up here and enjoy the fishery, and we’d like to make it a better fishery. One way to do that is to create better habitat upstream and downstream, and I think this is a good project for our chapter to focus on.”

Evanston Park and Recreation District Director Dennis Poppinga provided the council an analysis on the performance of the city-owned Purple Sage Golf Course during the 2012 season, as well as recommendations for improvements to the site during the upcoming 2013 season.

“The goal that we’ve had since we opened the course has been trying to recover about 55 to 60 percent of our revenue through cost recovery,” Poppinga told councilors. “This year, the 2012 season, cost $986,081 to operate the golf course. What we usually do is subtract the depreciation of equipment out of that to come up with a figure to use to work toward that 55 or 60 percent cost recovery. This year, we recovered in revenue $434,064, which is about 53 percent.”

According to figures provided by Poppinga, that difference required a city subsidy of $390,287, or $555,017 if equipment depreciation is not factored in.

Poppinga also discussed the possibility of increasing green fees for players, leaving fees for an 18-hole round at $40, including $26 for the fee and $14 for cart use, but increasing the total cost for a nine-hole round to $22, which includes a $1 increase in the green fee. He said the proposed increase, if approved, would hopefully encourage more golfers to opt for 18-hole rounds. Green fees have not been increased since 2010.

Also proposed, if funding is available, will be the re-sodding of holes 3, 8, 10, 12 and 18, all on the back nine, at an estimated cost of $84,370. Additional proposed improvements include new tee boxes on hole 4, fairway improvements to hole 12, new tine holders, new bunker sand on holes 1, 9, 10 and 18, and cart path improvements on holes 3, 4 and 9.

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