These condos may not have a clubhouse and a Jacuzzi, but they are high-priced domiciles nonetheless.
Rainbow and brown trout have already begun moving into their new, man-made residences on a re-routed portion of the Provo River, thanks to the Utah Department of Transportation.Affectionately called "condos" by UDOT engineers, the new homes for displaced fish are part of an elaborate $300,000 building project to preserve and replace fish habitat destroyed by construction work on U.S. 189 through Provo Canyon. The construction project forced engineers to re-route a portion of the river.
Engineers opened the new channel Friday to see how the condos and other riprap hold up to the cascading waters. The tests are in preparation for additional construction on more fish condos later this summer.
The fish condo is a new concept for UDOT.
"History has said you build your road and you build your channel and you worry about the fish later," said Larry Buss, UDOT project engineer. "This time, we did it in a reverse order. We decided on which stream features we wanted and then determined the alignment of the channel. And we designed the channel with the fish habitat in mind."
That environmental foresight by UDOT has won praise from the Division of Wildlife Resources, which traditionally opposes road construction projects along important fisheries. And the Provo River is one of the best fisheries in anywhere in the state.
"We went to the DWR and explained what we wanted to do and they were not opposed at all to changing the channel if we could make it a more natural habitat than what is there now," said Joel Hall, a pre-construction engineer. "They have been very cooperative and have worked hand-in-hand with us to make changes in the design as we went along."
The channel is anything but natural now. A concrete retaining wall borders one side of the river to protect the existing highway. There are no twists in the stream and few pools.
Even the prospect of improving the fish habitat has some people concerned. Lawsuits against UDOT are pending, and a court order halted construction on additional fish condos for awhile.
Opposition to the project has waned considerably now that opponents see what is being done. UDOT now hopes to have all of the fish condos finished by the end of summer and begin re-vegetating the banks by fall.
There are two characteristics of the new stream that make the new channel more natural than the old one. One is that the slope of the stream bed has been reduced, and curves, twists, waterfalls and large pools have been built into the bottom of the stream bed.
"It's not a straight line like a highway engineer would have designed it," said Hall.
The second characteristic is the "condos." Trout require overhanging stream banks, which take years to develop naturally. So Geomax and Trout Habitat Specialists developed an artificial overhang.
The condos consist of a network of logs implanted into the rocky stream banks. Some extend from the bank out into the stream, while others run parallel to the channel. Boulders and rocks are then poured over the top of the intertwined logs, providing a network of caves for the fish.
"The fish can swim back in among the logs for up to eight feet," said Buss, adding that the overhang provides the fish protection from predators and a safe place to spawn. "I don't know how a fisherman would lure a fish out of there, but it's exactly what the fish need to thrive."
Wildlife Resources will now study the new fish condos to determine how many fish are using the elaborate overhangs, and whether it was worth all the expense and effort.
UDOT has finished two sections of fish condos, and will begin work on the remaining six sections as soon as possible. The remaining sections will cost an additional $150,000 to $200,000 to complete.
Hall said the Provo Canyon road project, with its emphasis on protecting and improving fish habitat, will be the prototype for all future road projects that could affect rivers and streams.
Too often, fishing streams have been destroyed, like on Clear Creek along the newly constructed I-70 west of Richfield. "We have learned from our mistakes over the years," he said.
"I think this project demonstrates our ability to address environmental concerns and still build highways," said Buss.