Wasatch Environmental Update for March 19, 2015
By John Worlock, Member, SOC Board of Directors
“The Future of the Bear River”
Utah’s Bear River and the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge were struck a nasty blow by the recently adjourned 2015 session of the Legislature.
For those who are geographically challenged, here’s a brief description. The Bear River comes out of the north slope of the Uintah Mountain Range, runs north through Wyoming and west through Idaho, picking up water from Bear Lake and many other tributaries, then turning south to meander and finally drain into the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge at the northeast corner of the Great Salt Lake. Thus the Bear River supports the Bird Refuge, but is also the greatest contributor of lake-water, keeping the Great Salt Lake afloat, so to speak.
In the waning hours of the session last Thursday night, the Utah legislature passed a bill creating a slush-fund of five million dollars to begin two massive water-diversion projects. The five million dollars in this bill is just a drop in the proverbial bucket, meant to commit the state to the eventual expense of several billion dollars.
The Bear River water project would store and channel water from the Bear River, pipelining it south into the growing Salt Lake Valley. Diversions of the Bear River have been on the books for a quarter of a century, as responses to the unpredictable variations in the water level in the Great Salt Lake. But this current diversion is not designed to help the lake, as it would only divert the water to satisfy the green lawn and culinary needs of the projected population growth.
Critics of the bill argue that water conservation is a better, and cheaper, answer. Utah supports the highest per-capita water usage in the country, and this is in spite of the fact that it is the second driest state, behind only Nevada. Unfortunately, Utah’s water users are subsidized by property taxes, so that they never see the true cost of their water profligacy.
Nevertheless, over the past few years, urged by state and local leaders, plus many organizations such as the Utah Rivers Council and Great Salt Lake Audubon, Utahns have reduced their water usage substantially.
Surely we can do even better at conserving water and avoid this and other expensive and destructive boondoggles.