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THE BEAR RIVER
The Bear River drains an area of 6,900 square miles in southwestern Wyoming, northern
Utah, and southeastern Idaho. Its headwaters are but 90 miles from its mouth, yet it meanders
500 miles in a circuitous course in reaching the Great Salt Lake. In its travels, it makes five
state line crossings in three states. The map found on page ii shows the major features of the
Bear River system.
The Bear River is not only the largest tributary to the Great Salt Lake, but is the largest
stream in the North American Continent that does not flow to an ocean. Prior to settlement and
irrigation development, the annual discharge of the river into the Great Salt Lake averaged an
estimated 1,750,000 acre-feet. Settlement of lands adjacent to the Bear River began in about
1860, and power development began in 1907. In 1911, Bear Lake was converted into a storage
reservoir by constructing inlet and outlet canals connecting the lake and the river.
Approximately 500 irrigation organizations own and operate separate irrigation systems
in the basin supplying irrigation water for half a million acres of land. Six hydroelectric plants
are in operation on the main stem of the Bear River.
In addition, numerous municipalities, communities, individual families, and a variety of
industrial and miscellaneous users and the waterfowl refuges withdraw water from the Bear
River. Today nearly a million acre-feet of water annually still flow into the Great Salt Lake from
the Bear River.
BEAR RIVER COMPACT
The Bear River Compact is a document voluntarily written by the states which
establishes the rights and obligations of Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming with respect to the waters of
the Bear River. The Compact became effective on March 17, 1958.
The main purposes of the Compact are outlined in paragraph A of Article I of the
Compact, which states:
The major purposes of this Compact are to remove the causes of present and
future controversy over the distribution and use of the waters of the Bear River, to
provide for efficient use of water for multiple purposes, to permit additional
development of the water resources of Bear River, and to promote interstate comity.
The Original (1958) Compact provided the following:
AMENDED BEAR RIVER COMPACT
Proposed amendments to the Bear River Compact were approved by the Commission in
December 1979, and the Amended Compact became law on February 8, 1980. Amendments
provide for the following principal changes to the 1958 Compact:
- The allocation and distribution of direct flow rights between the various
sections in the Upper and Central Divisions is unchanged from the 1958
- Additional storage is granted above Bear Lake for 74,500 acre-feet, of
which 4,500 acre-feet is granted to Idaho, and 35,000 acre-feet is granted each
to Utah and Wyoming. This storage, plus water appropriated including
groundwater applied to beneficial use after January 1, 1976, is limited to an
annual depletion of 28,000 acre-feet of which Idaho is allocated 2,000 acre-feet
and Utah and Wyoming are allowed 13,000 acre-feet each. This additional
storage in the Upper and Central Division will not be allowed when the
elevation of Bear Lake is below 5911 feet (Utah Power and Light datum).
- Additional rights are granted to store water in the Upper and Central
Divisions which would otherwise be spilled or bypassed from Bear Lake when all
other direct flow and storage rights are satisfied. These storage rights are
allocated with equal priority as follows: 6 percent to Idaho, 47 percent to Utah,
and 47 percent to Wyoming.
- The method for the declaration of a water emergency in the Lower Division
and the distribution of direct flow diversions by priority without regard to state
line is unchanged from the 1958 Compact.
- The water not applied to beneficial use prior to January 1, 1976, including
groundwater tributary to the Bear River, is allocated on a depletion basis.
- In the Lower Division, Idaho is granted the first right to develop and
deplete 125,000 acre-feet. Utah is granted the second right to develop and
deplete 275,000 acre-feet. The next 150,000 acre-feet of water depletion will be
divided equally between Utah and Idaho. All water in excess of the above
allocations will be divided between Utah and Idaho, with Idaho receiving 30
percent and Utah 70 percent.
Compact Required Depletion Estimates
The amended Bear River Compact, as referenced above, states that several of the new
provisions allowing for additional storage and use of waters subsequent to January 1, 1976 be
administered based upon depletions. The Compact provides that Commission-approved
procedures shall be adopted to make such depletion estimates. Working under the direction of
the Commission, the Technical Advisory Committee was given the assignment to make these
depletion estimates. First, at Commission meetings, the Technical Advisory Committee
presented base maps delineating irrigation water usage up through January 1, 1976. The TAC
then moved forward in their assignment to make estimates of depletions subsequent to January
1, 1976. At the April 1992 Commission meeting, each state presented its depletion estimates
based upon interim Commission-approved procedures designated for this purpose.
The depletion estimates submitted by the states represented changes from January 1,
1976 to January 1, 1990. At the November 1993 Commission meeting, the Commission
formally adopted the Commission-approved procedures which allow for common depletion
calculations. These Commission-approved procedures direct that the latest depletion estimates
should be included in the Biennial Report. Figure 0-3 represents the most recent depletion
Bear River Commission
Estimated Annual Depletions1
Changes from January 1, 1976, to January 1, 1990
|ABOVE STEWART DAM|
1 All values are in acre-feet. Data were obtained from the appendices of
the April 22, 1992, Bear River Commission meeting minutes. Any reductions in
pre-1976 depletions are reflected in the above numbers. With the exeption of
Woodruff Narrows Reservoir, reservoir evaporation was not calculated.
2 First right under Compact-Compact grants additional rights.
3 Second right under Compact-Compact grants additional rights.
ADMINISTRATION OF BEAR RIVER COMPACT
Provisions of the Compact are generally administered and enforced under the direction
of the Bear River Commission. However, water rights within each state are adjudicated and
administered in accordance with state law, subject to limitations provided in the Compact.
Seasonal daily records are collected on about 130 diversions above Bear Lake by state
river commissioners under the direction of their respective State Engineers and under the general
supervision of the Commission's Engineer-Manager. These records include all of the diversions
from Bear River main stem and Smiths Fork, as they are required to administer the Bear River
Compact. Daily discharge records for canals in the Central and Upper Divisions are published in
this biennial report and have been published in previous biennial reports.
The Engineer-Manager determines when, under provisions of the Compact, a water
emergency exists. Once a determination has been made of a water emergency, the Engineer-
Manager is in weekly phone contact with state river commissioners as to flows and diversions,
and at least once a week, allocates the water within the Upper and Central Divisions as provided
for under the Compact. The Engineer-Manager also inspects diversions in the field as needed to
insure the equitable apportionment of the water of the Bear River as provided for under the
The original Compact defines storage rights in existing reservoirs above Bear Lake and
provides for an additional storage allowance of 36,500 acre-feet annually. Idaho users on
Thomas Fork are allotted 1,000 acre-feet of this amount, and the remainder is divided equally
between Wyoming and Utah.
The reservoirs listed in Figure 0.4 have been constructed under the additional storage
provisions of the original Compact. Allocation to Woodruff Narrows Reservoir includes 15,240
acre-feet allocated to Utah.
Sulphur Creek Reservoir (Wyoming) ................................................ 4,614 ac-ft
Sulphur Creek Reservoir Enlargement (Wyoming) .................................... 1,100 ac-ft
J. L. Martin Reservoir, Sulphur Creek (Wyoming) ...................................... 88 ac-ft
A. J. Barker Reservoir, Yellow Creek (Utah) ......................................... 162 ac-ft
Hatch Brothers Reservoir (Utah) ..................................................... 350 ac-ft
Woodruff Narrows Reservoir (Utah-Wyoming) ........................................ 18,490 ac-ft
Whitney Reservoir (Wyoming) ....................................................... 4,200 ac-ft
Wyman Reservoir (Wyoming) ............................................................ 22 ac-ft
Massae Reservoir (Wyoming) .......................................................... 107 ac-ft
Massae Reservoir Enlargement (Wyoming) ............................................... 51 ac-ft
Woodruff Creek Reservoir (Utah) ................................................... 2,000 ac-ft
TOTAL ALLOCATION .......................................... 31,133 ac-ft
Additional storage allowance is granted under the Amended Compact. Woodruff Narrows
was enlarged in 1980 under this provision from a spillway capacity of 28, 100 acre-feet to
57,300 acre-feet. Allocated to this enlargement is: Utah, 18,000 acre-feet including 6,686 acre-
feet depletion; and Wyoming, 2,960 acre-feet including 871 acre-feet depletion.
Sulphur Creek Reservoir was enlarged in 1988 to a total capacity of 19,775 acre-feet.
Allocated to this enlargement is 10,315 acre-feet (9,370 for municipal use) including 701 acre-
feet for depletion.
Article VI of the Compact provides an irrigation reserve level in Bear Lake below
which water shall not be released solely for generation of power, except in emergency, but
after release for irrigation, it may be used in generating power as it is conveyed to irrigation
diversion works. The reserve is to be increased by designated amounts as additional storage,
allocated by the original Compact, is developed above Bear Lake. No development of new
storage took place in 1993 and 1994, so the irrigation reserve elevation remained at 5914.61
feet with an active storage content in the reserve of 794,000 acre-feet. This irrigation reserve
elevation corresponds to 30,000 acre-feet of developed additional storage allocation in the
The water supply during the biennium was above normal during 1993 and well below
normal in 1994. The summer of 1993 was one of the coolest and wettest on record.
Conversely, 1994 was one of the hottest and driest. The average measurements at three
indicator gages was 110 percent of the historic average in 1993. It was extremely dry during
1994, with the average streamflow past these same gages being 63 percent of average. The
waters of the Bear River originate in the Uinta Mountains of Utah, and the flow of the river
across the Utah state line into Wyoming is an important indicator of the water supply which is
available in the Upper and Central Divisions of the river as defined under the Compact. A
stream gage has long been established at this State Line and is maintained by the USGS. This
measuring point is used as one of the three indicator gages in analyzing the overall water
supply available to the users of the Bear River, and in particular, for the supply available to the
In the Central Division, often half of the flow or more of the Bear River at their
confluence is composed of inflow from Smiths Fork. Therefore, the USGS gage on Smiths
Fork has been used as an indicator of the available water supply in the Central Division.
In the Lower Division much of the flow of the river during the irrigation season is
dominated by the pumping from the very large storage provided by Bear Lake. It is important
to understand the gains and losses in Bear Lake storage as the water supply for the water users
in the Lower Division is analyzed. Bear Lake ended the biennial period about one foot higher
than it began, but this is only due to the significant gains in storage during 1993 which were
almost fully nullified by the dramatic drop in 1994.
A large amount of water is diverted and used in the Cache Valley. The major streams
which are tributary to the Bear River in Cache Valley flow from the mountains east of the
valley. The gage on the Logan River has been selected as a good indicator of the water supply
available for the Cache Valley, and in general, the Lower Division. In 1993 on the Logan
River, 63 percent of the average flow of the river was available during the irrigation season. In
1992 on the Logan River only 33 percent of the average flow was available during the
irrigation season. The contribution to the Bear River from the streams in the Cache Valley is
very significant, and often upwards of half of the entire natural flow of the river is contributed
in the Cache Valley region.
Details concerning the annual water supplies available during the biennium can be
obtained from reading the second and third chapters of this report which specifically address
the water supply and distribution of water in 1993 and 1994.
The administration of the distribution of the waters of the Bear River between the three
compact states and the various subdivisions of the river, as defined by the Compact (the river
crosses state lines five times), is defined by the original Compact. When the flow of the river
in the Upper and Central Divisions decreases to certain levels, the Engineer-Manager is to
declare a "water emergency" and supervise the allocation of water between the sections within
the divisions of the river as directed by the Compact.
The Compact provides that in the Upper Division-which comprises all of the basin from
its headwaters down to and including Pixley Dam-there shall be two sections administered in
Wyoming and two sections administered in Utah. The Compact provides that when the total
diversions in the division, plus the flow passing Pixley Dam, are less than 1,250 cfs (divertible
flow) a water emergency exists, and such divertible flow is allocated to the sections as follows:
Upper Utah Section............0.6 percent
Upper Wyoming Section....49.3 percent
Lower Utah Section..........40.5 percent
Lower Wyoming Section.....9.6 percent
The Compact provides that (Article IV,A, l, e.):
If for any reasons the aggregate of all diversion's in a river section of the Upper
Division does not equal the allocation of water thereto, the unused portion of such
allocation shall be available for use in the other river sections in the Upper Division in
the following order: (1) In the other river section of the same State in which the unused
allocation occurs; and (2) in the river sections of the other State. No permanent right
of use shall be established by the distribution of water pursuant to this paragraph e.
The Compact defines that the Central Division as comprising that part of the basin from Pixley
Dam down to and including Stewart Dam (the point of diversion to Bear Lake). It includes
one section in Wyoming and one in Idaho.
Divertible flow in the Central Division is the sum of diversions from Smiths Fork and
designated tributaries, diversions from Bear River in the division, diversion to Bear Lake via
the Rainbow Inlet Canal, and flow passing Stewart Dam. A water emergency shall exist when
this divertible flow is less than 870 cfs, or when Bear River entering Idaho (gaging station at
Border) is discharging less than 350 cfs. Wyoming diversions are limited to 43 percent of
divertible flow during a water emergency.
During 1993 the river was not regulated in both of these divisions until mid-late July.
In 1994, regulation commenced in mid-May in the Central Division and by the first of July in
the Upper Division. For details concerning the distribution of waters in each of the irrigation
seasons, consult the chapters which follow concerning 1993 and 1994.
The Compact does not provide for specific allocation of waters by the Commission in
the Lower Division unless certain provisions of the Compact are met relating to a petition
being initiated by a Utah water user who feels that waters are not being equitably apportioned.
There has never been a request for administration under this provision of the Compact, and
none was received in this biennium; nor was the Commission formally involved in the
distribution of waters in the Lower Division.
The Commission has concluded that a record of the streamflows in the Bear River
drainage is most important as this record is needed 1) for the measurement and subsequent
distribution of irrigation waters during the summer season in compliance with the Compact, 2)
to verify the compliance of diversions with the Compact, 3) for the review of the Compact, as
is required from time to time, and 4) for the three states to plan for water resource use and
development. As an indication of the Commission's commitment to the stream-gaging
program, the Commission allocated in the biennium approximately 50 percent of its budget to
the stream-gaging program. Utah Power, the individual states, and water user organizations
maintain additional records of streamflows and canal diversions. A composite of all of the
records is needed to accurately reflect the waters available for use in the Bear River
All of the stream gages, supported by the Commission, are operated and maintained by
the USGS. The USGS is well recognized as a leader in stream-gaging technologies, and their
records are used as a standard for planning, water distribution, and legal purposes. The
cooperative agreement between the Bear River Commission and the USGS provides that both
contribute equally to the funding of the program. The adequacy of the stream-gaging program
is constantly reviewed by the Commission's TAC, by Commission members, and by the
Lists of the individual gages supported during the biennium and the records of key
gages during the biennium are made a part of this report, and respective detail is provided in
the 1993 and 1994 chapters of this report.
BIENNIUM STATE ADMINISTRATION
Article XI of the Amended Compact provides that applications for appropriation or
change in water use within each state shall be in accordance with individual state law, except no
such application shall be approved if the effect will deprive water users within another state or
increase the depletion beyond that which is provided for under the Compact. This article further
requires that state officials report, in a format and at intervals established by the Commission,
the status of their respective allocations and uses. The Commission has determined that the best
format for reporting such changes in uses is the Biennial Report. Details of state water-related
activities are shown in the respective years' write-ups.