KSL Outdoors: Restorations to Rock Creek and Silver Lake

(INTRO) Thanks for tuning into KSL Outdoors and welcome to Northern Utah, I’m Adam Eakle. We are along a stream here, I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it’s called Rock Creek. It runs right through the middle of Hardware Ranch. The DWR is undertaking a stream restoration project to bring this bring this fishery back to what it once was.”

(Kent Sorenson, DWR Habitat Restoration Biologist) this is one of the projects that our habitat council funds.”

(Kent Sorenson, DWR Habitat Restoration Biologist) “Most people don’t get a chance to see where their dollars go, other than they leave their credit card and they get a tag somewhere. Actually a portion of it comes back in on the ground and we do restoration projects like this.

There are approximately 15 miles of fishable trout streams and rivers on Hardware Ranch, Rock Creek is one of the smaller ones, but don’t let it’s size fool you. This small creek used to produce big wild trout.

(Kent) “oh nice fish.”

(Frank Keoppel, Fly Fisherman) “Five or six years ago or even seven years ago the fishing was so good in here that you could go in and catch a fish every 30 seconds. It was unreal, everywhere you put a fly fish would come out. Some of them were big, I mean for a small stream you could catch an 18 inch fish which is huge for a stream that small.”

Frank and his wife Heather still fish Rock Creek, but say the size of the fish, isn’t what it used to be. Partly they believe because of the over grazing that occurred here as part of a USU study.

(Frank Keoppel) “Then we came in here 5 years ago and there were 100’s of cattle in here, it just destroyed the stream, there were no fish. It would start as sagebrush, turn into sand, water, sand and sagebrush. No place for the fish to find any cover at all and there just weren’t any in there.”

(Kent Sorenson) it removed a lot of the bank side vegetation. Which is very important for stream stability and what we ended up with is a stream that cut really heavily around the outside bends and made these shear vertical cliffs of clay and loam and whatever else the sediment is that’s naturally occuring in this valley and that was only going to get worse.”

So last year, Kent started this 1 mile restoration project on Rock Creek in this grazing enclosure where cattle are now,… not allowed.

(Kent) “What we are looking for is where it’s straight we want the riffles and where it bends we want the pools and the pools should be flat, not wavy.”

Watch as Wayne takes the sod off of this four foot vertical bank. Digs down to create a slopping bench about five feet wide, then replaces the sod and transplants willows back into the bank next to the creeks edge. Transplanting the willows and dogwood next to the stream will not only help with erosion, but also provide more cover for the fish. The projects also creates slightly deeper pools and more habitat for the fish.

(Kent) “See how naturally this inside bend slopes down as a flood plain and it has it’s own bench. This is what we call bench full, it’s the point of flooding, there is very little near bank stress on this, it will hold forever in flood. What we want to do, is move down here with it and duplicate this sort of thing on the outside.”

(Heather Keoppel) “as long as it helps fishing for years to come, I think it’s great.”

(Tag) “the Division expects to have this phase of the work done in just a few days and Kent was saying because they didn’t disturb too much of the bottom of the river, the bugs are still here and the fish will be back in just a few as well. Coming up on KSL Outdoors.”

A one hundred year old dam is in dire need of work to keep a popular lake in Utah county open to the public.

(Aaron Spencer) “in order to maintain the dam here, state safety officials have declared that work needs to done here or it needs to be breached.”

(Adam) “that story in just a second, but first tonights quiz question.”


(Mike Slater, DWR Aquatics Biologist) “We are up here at Silver Lake, which is above Silver Lake Flat Reservoir in American Fork Canyon.”

(Mike Slater) a lot of recreationists come up here, just for the hike, for fishing, it’s a pretty place and it’s close to home.

Silver Lake in the Lone Peak Wilderness is a natural lake that was enlarged by a dam back in the early 1900’s for irrigation purposes. It’s a masonry dam that is reinforced with this granite rock face. The original builders created a spillway for high water runoff and an outlet that allows water to flow under the dam, all the time.

(Aaron Spencer, DNR Water Resources Engineer) the truth is nobody has actually been able to see the outlet in decades because water is always in it, it’s uncontrolled. There’s no gate on it.

Because the outflow cannot be controlled, the lake is full in the spring when snowmelt is high and look at this arial picture of the lake in the fall. You can see the lake gets extremely low. So low, fish can barely survive.

(Mike) “It’s just leaving a little bit of water for those fish and they don’t survive as well as they could. So with this overall project we feel that we can increase, improve the overall winter survival of those fish, increase the size of the fish, increase the numbers of fish and overall i guess the opportunity for people to come up here and enjoy a chance to fish in a place like this.”

The outlet is a concern not only for Mike, but it’s also been a concern for state officials who monitor dams in Utah.

(Aaron) in order to maintain the dam here, the state safety officials have declared that work needs to be done here or it needs to be breached.

So multiple agencies came together and formed a plan. But, how do you work on a dam 2 miles from the closest road, at over nine thousand feet, in the middle of a wilderness area?

(nats helicopter)

You hire a helicopter.

(Mike) and typically in a wilderness you are not going to have machinery, equipment and stuff to do the work. However, through the varies analysis process we went through it was deemed a lot less intrusive to bring some equipment up with a helicopter to get all the work done in one season, ie in a summer. Otherwise we probably would have to had a contractor up here for 3-4 years with mule trains, with equipment, with shovels, picks, ect and we felt and the public felt and agreed that that would be more of an impact to have this area closed for that many years to get the same amount of work done.”

(Brent Fox, FX Construction) “this is an interesting challenging job. It’s a little out of the ordinary, but it’s fun.”

The plan is to have FX Construction build a coffer dam to hold back the water while they plug the outlet under the dam with grout. They’ll also dig the spillway down by six feet. While this will reduce the maximum overall depth of the lake by six feet, the lake will be a constant 18-20 feet deep, year round.

(Mike) what will be different is it’s going to operate more like a natural lake. Whatever water comes in is going to spill out the top of the lake. And so when people come up they are going to see what I would call a full lake.”

(Mike) “the fish will survive great, they’ll do just fine in that.”

(Tag) FX Construction hopes to have the project done right around Labor Day. Once it is completed the water level will be pretty consistent right about where my knees are at. So not only will it make the water level more stable, the dam more stable, it will make a great brook trout and Mike’s really excited about a grayling fishery here. Just a little slice of the wilderness up American Fork Canyon. Time now to head over to the guys at Fish Tech for tonights Fishing Report.”

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