When whirling disease was discovered at the Midway fish hatchery in 2000, the news was as bad as imaginable.

The facility, which was capable of producing millions of fingerling trout each year, was shut down to prevent the infected waters and fish from further contaminating Utah's rivers, lakes and streams.

Last week, after a multi-year cleaning and rebuilding process, the hatchery was rededicated.

"It's good and, for me, it's scary as heck," fishery manager Chuck Bobo said. "The scariest part is the pumps. Those are four-letter words around here because if they go down we're in trouble."

They're not expected to go down anytime soon, though, and that has anglers around the state rejoicing.

After the facility was closed and depopulated, studies were done to determine how the infection got into the water system and how to prevent it from returning. Those studies determined the contaminated water came from just below the soil. Despite there being artesian springs common in the area, the water most readily available was no longer suitable.

Three wells were dug to depths of nearly 400 feet to find and pump clean water into the hatchery's system.

"Being 100 percent safe is what you have to have," Bobo said. "I never felt safe with (filters and chemicals). But the wells, we found there is a 25-foot layer of rock that keeps the source very clean. We felt confident and comfortable that if we could pump that water that the pathogen could not get down there and get back up."

Now reopened, the Midway Hatchery will again supply many of Utah's waters with cutthroat and rainbow trout. Strawberry Reservoir and other fisheries in northern Utah will receive the bulk of the new fish, but there are also plans to supply as many as 250,000 catchable rainbows for other central Utah bodies of water each year.

Annual production is expected to be more than 190,000 pounds of fish.

"It's been eight years since we shut down," Bobo said. "You want to talk about nerve wracking. We realized that our water source, the only water source we had, was the problem. Now we've got a new source that is clean and we trust."

In the past, visitors were welcome at the hatchery. Now, with fears of recontamination an always-present concern, visitors will be limited to the administrative area of the facility.

"The bottom line is that all of those people could have the parasite on their shoes, on their pants, on their hands," Bobo said. "The good old days are over. We hope we can do something in the future, but right now we have to keep everything closed up."

And keeping the hatchlings and catchable fish disease free is critical.

After the Midway facility shut down, other hatcheries had to pick up the slack. Bobo said while that didn't turn out to be a big problem, it was something that stretched resources and facilities beyond their design. Midway's reopening will lighten the load at places like Fountain Green and Kamas.


E-mail: jeborn@desnews.com