Draft legislation that would allow three dam projects on the Bear River to go forward has been ordered by the Legislature's Energy, Natural Resources and Agriculture Interim Committee.
The projects - near Barrens and Avon in Cache County and Honeyville in Box Elder County - would be the first efforts by the state to store some 360,000 acre-feet of water deeded to the state by the Bear River Compact.The compact is a joint agreement among Utah, Idaho and Wyoming that allocates water flows in the Bear River for use by the states.
The draft legislation will follow a concept developed by Sen. Fred W. Finlinson, R-Salt Lake. As proposed, the water would be divided six ways. The Bear River Water Conservancy District (which serves Box Elder County) and the yet-to-be-formed Cache Water Conservancy District would each receive 95,000 acre-feet annually.
The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge would receive 60,000 acre-feet, and the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District and the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District 50,000 acre-feet each. Some 10,000 acre-feet would be reserved for development on the upper Bear River.
The bill will include $10 million to get efforts on the three projects under way. Supporters also want a commitment that would give the effort $10 million annually until five planned projects are complete.
Rep. Evan Olsen, R-Young Ward, said the committee will review the draft legislation in December.
"I think there are a number of points that will come up for considerable debate," Olsen said. "There wasn't time this week to permit the kind of technical debate that is needed."
Olsen said Cache County water users want assurances that existing water rights, especially ground water rights, will be adequately protected. And they want assurances that water assigned to Cache County will not be sold away on a permanent basis if the county is unable to make quick use of the water.
"For some areas the need for the water is urgent," Olsen said. "Cache County has had more water than needed, and we are not likely to require this water for 20 or 30 years. We want assurances that it will be there when we need it."
Early studies of five potential dam sites have yielded the following information.
HONEYVILLE: A 117,000 acre-foot reservoir at this site would cost an estimated $52 million. A power plant that would yield 23 million kilowatts per year could also be incorporated into the dam design. The cost of building a hydroelectric plant has not been included in the estimate.
BARRENS: A range of storage capacity is being investigated, and final reservoir size would depend on transmission capacity to bring water to this off-stream storage facility. More studies are pending on using existing canals or possibly a pump station to bring water to the reservoir. The cost of the additional study has not been included in the preliminary cost estimates. A 35,000 acre-foot reservoir is estimated to cost $27 million, a 100,000 acre-foot reservoir $79 million.
AVON: Would yield about 12,000 acre-feet of water. A design and cost estimate for this site is pending.
MILL CREEK: No data available.
ONEIDA NARROWS: No data available.
Environmental analysis for all the dam sites will include studies of vegetation, special aquatic sites and wildlife. Preliminary studies show that a two-mile "blue-ribbon" trout stream at the Mill Creek site could be harmed by a storage dam, as would a wide variety of wildlife and habitat at the Barrens.
Preliminary water-quality studies have begun on the Barrens and Honeyville sites. The data show the Barrens has a high salinity level relative to other proposed reservoir sites, and the Honeyville site shows a higher probability of developing algae blooms in the summer months.