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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.


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:
  • Divided the Bear River into three main division: the Upper Division, the Central Division, and the Lower Division; with subdivisions or sections created in the Upper Division. The Compact specifically identified which river flows and canal diversions are to be assigned to each of the divisions.

  • Apportioned the direct flows of the Bear River and its tributaries between Utah and Wyoming in the Upper Division (upstream of Pixley Dam) and between Idaho and Wyoming in the Central Division (Pixley Dam to Stewart Dam).

  • Did not specifically allocate the water in the Lower Division between the states of Idaho and Utah. The Compact did, however, provide a mechanism wherein a Utah water user may allege that because of diversions within Idaho, he is being deprived of water to which he is justly entitled and request distribution across state line. If the Commission finds this to be the case, the Commission may declare a water emergency and establish a water delivery schedule in the Lower Division based upon priority without regard to state line.

  • Defined the pre-Compact storage rights for each of the three states in reservoirs above Bear Lake and established additional rights to store above Stewart Dam 36,500 acre-feet of Bear River water in any water year. This 36,500 acre-feet of storage is referred to as "Original Compact storage" and was allocated to each of the states as follows:
    	Utah	   17,750 acre-feet
    	Wyoming	   17,750 acre-feet
    	Idaho	    1,000 acre-feet

  • Reserved a portion of the storage capacity in Bear Lake for primary use by, and protection of, irrigation uses and rights downstream from Bear Lake. This compact-established "irrigation reserve" establishes minimum Bear Lake levels, which correspond to upstream storage development, below which Bear Lake cannot be drawn down for power purposes only.


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:

Amendment Highlights

  • The allocation and distribution of direct flow rights between the various sections in the Upper and Central Divisions is unchanged from the 1958 Compact.

  • 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 estimates.

Bear River Commission
Estimated Annual Depletions1
Changes from January 1, 1976, to January 1, 1990

State Allocation Agricultural
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

State 125,0002 7,348 -48 7,300 117,700
Idaho 275,0003 2,936 1,178 4,114 270,886

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.

Figure 0.3



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 Compact.


New Storage

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.

			Resevoir						Allocation
 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
        									      Figure 0.4

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.

Bear Lake

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 original Compact.

Water Supply

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 Upper Division.

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.

Streamflow Distribution

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.

Stream-Gaging Program

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 drainage.

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 USGS.

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.


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.

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