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Utah, Idaho seek 400,000 acre-feet of water at Bear Lake

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL | Posted - Apr 4th, 2018 @ 5:45pm



SALT LAKE CITY — Both Utah and Idaho are seeking 400,000 acre-feet of water from Bear Lake, filing claims on rights that authorities say will bolster water supplies into the future.

A release by the Utah Division of Water Resources said the March action will accomplish a variety of goals, including:

• More flexibility for a variety of supply, environmental and potential future mitigation needs

• Helping both states work collaboratively to meet environmental, tourism and property owner demands

• Providing flexibility on potential water releases from Bear Lake in the future if they are necessary

Both states are equal, co-applicants for the water, which, if approved, will serve municipal providers in Bear Lake, Caribou, Oneida and Franklin counties, Idaho, and in Cache, Box Elder, Weber, Davis and Salt Lake counties in Utah, according to the application. The water stored under the right could also be used to augment irrigation supplies, according to the application.

The document identifies the water as a resource that previously was released from Bear Lake for flood control purposes or Bear River water that bypasses the lake for flood control reasons.

State water officials say the application before the Utah Division of Water Rights for unclaimed water rights at Bear Lake are independent of the Bear River Development Project, which has drawn criticism and concern from multiple groups that include the Utah Rivers Council and the Friends of the Great Salt Lake.

The Bear River Development Act, adopted by the Utah Legislature in 1991, allows state water officials to move forward with the potential diversion of up to 220,000 acre-feet of water from Bear Lake for future water supplies along the Wasatch Front. The lake contains approximately 1.4 million acre-feet of water.

Eric Millis, director of the state Division of Water Resources, said it already acquired the rights for that project about 40 years ago, which has been delayed due to water savings achieved through conservation.

The $1.3 billion project is now deemed unnecessary until 2045, pushed back from a previous date of 2040.

Environmental critics of any further diversions from the Bear Lake say drawing down its levels will jeopardize wetlands and the Great Salt Lake, with the Bear River being its largest tributary.

Zach Frankel, executive director of Utah Rivers Council, said the application, if successful, means greater depletion of water out of Bear Lake for municipal use — something his organization is opposed to.

"This raises questions about how they can advance this paper water right without it being Bear River Development."

Millis said the application was written to include all uses, including culinary and secondary water, as well as to better manage Bear Lake levels.

Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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Updated: Thursday November 15, 2018 6:34 pm