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Bear River Basin

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The Bear River takes a circuitous path from its headwaters in the Uinta Mountains to the Great Salt Lake. The Bear passes through Evanston, Wyoming, crosses into Utah, returns into Wyoming and flows through Cokeville. It then crosses into Idaho, reenters Utah and empties into the Great Salt Lake in the Bear River Wildlife Refuge. The Bear River is unique in that there has been very little Federal water agency presence in any development in the basin. In the early 1900's, Utah Power and Light constructed a canal to connect the Bear River with Bear Lake and installed the Lifton Pumping Plant in order to operate Bear Lake as a storage facility for downstream irrigation and hydropower generation.

The two main Bear River storage facilities in Wyoming, Sulphur Creek Reservoir upstream from Evanston, and Woodruff Narrows Reservoir between Evanston and Cokeville, were built with state funds provided by Wyoming and Utah, respectively. These facilities provide water for industrial agricultural and municipal uses. As in other basins, the Bear River area is experiencing increasing demands for recreational water uses such as angling and boating.

Water quality issues have come to the forefront over the past few years. In 1993, a Bear River Water Quality Conference was held in Logan, Utah to discuss issues such as the impact of Bear River flowing into Bear Lake, grazing concerns related to stream sedimentation, and hydropower operations. After that conference, the three states agreed to meet and develop a basin-wide water quality plan.

Recent litigation has forced the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to begin developing Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) in compliance of the Federal Clean Water Act. The DEQ is currently exploring the use of watershed management plans in lieu of using TMDL's, but this enforcement has statewide implications.

Compact Allocations

Estimated Annual Depletions (1976-1990) of the Bear River Above Stewart Dam in acre/ft.

State Allocation Agricultural
Municipal &
Industrial Depletions
Wyoming 13,000 1,996 781 2,777 10,223
Idaho 2,000 1,293 0 1,293 707
Utah 13,000 5,106 177 5,283 7,717
Source: Eight Biennial Bear River Commission Report, November 1995.

The original Bear River Compact was ratified by Congress in 1958 and allotted to Wyoming 17,750 acre-feet of storage. The total storage capacity of completed projects is 13,183 acre-feet. The remaining 4,567 acre-feet has been attributed to four proposed projects. Under provisions of the Amended Compact of 1980, Wyoming is able to transfer this remaining 4,567 acre-feet to existing reservoirs to maximize compact storage when the basin is under storage restrictions due to low levels of Bear Lake. The Amended Compact prohibits upstream storage under amended compact allocations when Bear Lake elevation is below 5911 feet.

The Amended Compact awarded to Wyoming an additional 35,000 acre- feet of storage and 13,000 acre-feet of annual depletions. Four storage projects to date have added a total of 14,054 acre-feet. Wyoming reported to the Commission an estimate of the depletion that had taken place from 1976 to 1990. Wyoming's depletion estimate from all new post-1976 uses was 3,241 acre-feet, which is well within the State's annual allocation of 13,000 acre-feet.

Future Concerns

After the completion of the 1980 Amended Compact, Wyoming made an initial allocation of its 13,000 acre-feet of depletion. This was done at the height of the energy boom in Wyoming and the requests exceeded the state's allocation. The boom was short-lived, and very little of the proposed development in the Evanston area occurred. Demands for Wyoming's remaining allocations would increase with an upturn in extractive energy development. During dry years, however, current day priorities would receive very little water. Additional storage and development of groundwater or other sources will be necessary to provide the dependable supply required for any energy-related production facility.

Since the federal government authorized the Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, land has been acquired for the Refuge in the floodplain south of Cokeville. An agreement between the Wyoming State Engineer's Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that transfer of water for changes in use on the Refuge lands will be in compliance with state law.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has developed a management plan for the Bonneville cutthroat trout in many of the tributaries to the Bear River. Game and Fish is addressing concerns of abundance and distribution of the fish throughout the basin in order to stabilize the populations. Instream flow protections are important for the maintenance of this sensitive species and to avoid future listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Further downstream, Wyoming carefully monitors Utah's long-range plans for Bear River use. Several dam sites have been analyzed by Utah. These storage facilities would provide Bear River water for supplemental municipal supply for the Wasatch front, including Ogden and Salt Lake City. The Bear River Commission is also extensively involved in developing an interstate delivery system between Utah and Idaho for the basin below Bear Lake.

The Seven Basins of the Water Plan
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