Box Elder County officials say residents are circulating petitions to form a water conservancy district with an eye on developing Bear River water projects needed to help the county grow.

"The acquisition of the unallocated water would benefit everyone in Box Elder County," said County Commission Chairman Frank Nishiguchi. "If the county is going to grow, water sources need to be developed to supply our cities, towns, industries, agricultural holdings and for recreational opportunities."Petitioners have collected thousands of signatures, said Ben Lindsay, Box Elder County extension agent and a member of the Bear River Water Development Committee.

He said to form the district the committee needs signatures from 5 percent of those living in cities and 20 percent of the people living in the unincorporated areas.

Technically, the rules allow the district to be created by a minority of the residents, but Lindsay said petitioners plan to collect signatures from most of the area's residents.

The Utah Division of Water Resources has said there are about 600,000 acre-feet of unallocated water in the Bear River, said Gene Bigler, chief of river basin planning.

Utah's share of that under terms of the Bear River Compact would be 380,000 acre-feet, he said.

"We have spent more time studying the Bear River Basin than any other, for obvious reasons," Bigler said. "It is one of the few places remaining where a lot of unallocated water runs freely into the Great Salt Lake."

A study of the area examined all possible requests for water in the next 40 years. After looking at agricultural, municipal, industrial and recreational needs, as well as possible "exports" of water to Wasatch Front counties, we could identify only a total of 320,000 acre-feet," he said.

However, Bigler said that before anyone taps that water, "They will have to deal with storage."

All of the river's water is being used during the low stream-flow periods of summer. Therefore, he said the unallocated water flows during the high spring flows and a reservoir would be needed to save it for off-peak periods.

Lindsay said the conservancy district would look first at small projects, such as enlarging irrigation canals or current diversion projects.

The need for water is especially critical in the unincorporated areas, where about 200 homes in new subdivisions get their water from shallow wells, many just across roads from septic tanks