Park City-area snowpack situation could lead to fish die-offs
Editor’s note: This article is one of four exploring the water situation in the Park City area following a winter with sparse snowfall. The others examine the snowpack, the capability of the city waterworks system to withstand a dry year and the factors involved in City Hall drought declarations.
The low snowfall in the winter may make it a difficult summer for people who want keep their lawns green, but the situation may be life or death for fish in area waterways.
The water runoff from melting snow at the upper elevations to the streams and rivers at the lower elevations is expected to be well below average. The impacts could be dramatic on the fish population in Park City and surrounding Summit County, an activist said.
Zachary Frankel, the executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said bodies of water are projected to be shallower than after a winter of normal snowfall. If that occurs, the eventual temperature of the waterways will increase as a result of the shallower depths, he said, explaining that the oxygen levels in the water fall as the temperature increases.
“One of our biggest threats to our streams across the state is sort of the cascade,” he said.
The fish would attempt to find cooler water, the “preferred temperature range,” but not all of them may successfully do so, he said. Trout populations at low and middle elevations would be impacted more heavily than those at higher elevations, he said.
Meanwhile, Frankel said, the amount of toxic runoff that enters the waterways will be similar to previous years, regardless of the snowpack. That means the toxicity, which is created by fertilizers from farms and other sorts of contaminants, would be more concentrated with less water to dilute the runoff, he explained. The toxicity reduces oxygen levels in the water.
Frankel predicted more competition among fish for food and a higher than normal mortality rate for younger fish this summer. Frankel said the area could suffer fish die-offs.
“For critters that rely upon our rivers and streams, it’s a big problem,” he said.
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The Park City lodging industry in recent weeks experienced an uptick in projected occupancy numbers during the dates of the Sundance Film Festival, but the figures remain depressed from a typical year during the largest special event on the city’s calendar.