It'll take 50 years and cost $388 million in today's dollars, but the Bear River is the last watering hole in the state and needs to be developed, state officials told a legislative committee Monday.
An average of one million acre-feet of water drains from the Bear into the Great Salt Lake each year - but commitments for that water are stretched all along the Bear River system, which winds through three states and crosses state lines five times.Utah Power & Light owns a good share of the water, and while the company insists it wants to be a "team player" with the state in developing new uses for Bear River water, utility representative Carly Burton said he is skeptical about development plans: "I don't believe that there's any water available," he said. "I believe all of the water in the Bear River is committed."
UP&L owns 1.4 million acre-feet in Bear Lake plus other non-consumptive rights on the river that it uses all along the system to power hydroelectric turbines and fill five major contracts to irrigation companies. UP&L's releases from Bear Lake last year are what kept water flowing in the river during the dry summer of 1988, said UP&L attorney Jody L. Williams. There wouldn't have been a river if UP&L hadn't have been delivering water to Bear River Irrigation Co. in Box Elder County, she said.
"It's too early to say" what effect development on the Bear will have on UP&L. Tell us what the development plans will be and we'll tell you what we'll negotiate, she said.
Larry Anderson, director of the state Division of Water Resources, agreed that no water is available for development on the Bear unless additional storage facilities are built on the river system. Even then, only high flows and some winter flows could be captured and stored for agricultural use in northern Utah and municipal use along the Wasatch Front, but tentative development plans could bring more water to the Wasatch Front than will the massive Central Utah Project.
Anderson said accommodating UP&L's needs for power generation and other water uses on the river would have to be an integral part of Bear River development.
The Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District initiated the state's current study of Bear River development when it asked the state for 50,000 acre-feet of Bear River water several years ago. Twice that much could be brought to Salt Lake County, Anderson said.
According to the provisions of an amended Bear River Compact, 600,000 acre-feet could be developed downstream of Bear Lake in Idaho and Utah. Utah's share is 385,000 acre-feet; and it can use Idaho's share until Utah's neighbor to the north develops its portion. "They have no plan, but implemented a Bear River task force because Utah did," Anderson said.
Utah's 23-member Bear River task force was created by the 1989 Legislature. It met for the first time Monday and plans to meet monthly as it continues to answer the ominous questions about developing the Bear River: Should the river be developed, when, and how expensive and complicated would it be?
Sen. John P. Holmgren, R-Cache, the task force chairman, settled the first item of business at the onset of the meeting by clarifying the participating status of the task force. Legislators on the task force will be compensated for their time and reimbursed for expenses; state employees and others appointed to the task force will not. "I hope that doesn't cause anyone any heartburn," he said. "Who drafted this legislation, anyway?"
On June 5 and 6, the task force will tour the river system and potential dam sites.