Attorney General Jim Jones has cleared the way for four southeastern Idaho counties to join three from Utah and two from Wyoming in building a dam on the Bear River.
But in a non-binding legal opinion on the joint project, Jones said the purpose of any water storage project has to be limited to irrigation or drainage of lands in the participating counties, and that could stifle the proposal.Jones said Bear Lake, Caribou, Franklin and Oneida counties can enter into agreements with Uinta and Lincoln counties in Wyoming, and Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties in Utah for the dam project.
The Idaho Department of Water Resources last year asked for the opinion following the counties' formation of the Bear River Water Development Committee, which wants to develop the river's unappropriated water.
But Idaho committee member Donald Rex said he is not certain Jones' opinion will permit development since the plan was based on financing the proposed dam at Smith's Fork north of Cokeville, Wyo., by selling water to cities along the Wasatch Front, something the attorney general indicated is out of the question.
"There is no way we could afford a dam for irrigation purposes alone," Rex said. "We would have to sell some of it."
Jones said Idaho's share of Bear River water cannot be allocated for use in another state.
That document was amended in 1978, giving Idaho the first 125,000 acre-feet of water on the river.