As our climate continues to change, the West has gone through some record droughts causing much concern about the availability of water and our water supply. Both Idaho and Utah have recently filed applications to appropriate as much as 400,000 acre-feet of water from the Bear River. Water levels change every year in the lake, and this year the Utah Park Service has calculated that there will be one foot drop in the overall water level. Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp, releases water every spring, just before the irrigation season, to prevent unexpected flooding. The application filed by both states seeks access to this additional water.
Rocky Mountain Power plans to release and store even more water in Bear Lake this year, worrying farmers along the Bear River that this may cause flooding to their fields, damage crops, or even worse, allow the utility to utilize eminent domain to take their property.
The utility services most all of eastern Idaho, Utah, and southwestern Wyoming and could use the extra water to efficiently operate their dams on the river and be able to respond to peak demands for power. The Utah State Engineer has not given his input on the application, but if he decides in favor of it, both Bear Lake and the Bear River will be dramatically affected.
Both Bear Lake and the Great Salt Lake share the Bear River as a major tributary. Any changes to the water levels in the river would affect both lakes, so the impact of this legislation extends much further than Bear Lake alone. Fluctuations in water level at the lake have their own set of consequences. The lake is home to four very unique species of fish not found anywhere else: Bear Lake whitefish, Bear Lake sculpin, Bonneville cisco and Bonneville whitefish. Water fluctuations and low water level do not provide for an ideal habitat for these rare species.
Recreation on the lake is also affected negatively when the beaches are continuously exposed to different water levels. Deposits of sludge, dead fish, algae, and other aquatic plants can be left on the beautiful white beaches when the water recedes, requiring constant clean-up efforts and maintenance. Water flucuations at the lake also cause a churn which creates cloudy water conditions and takes away from the natural aquamarine color of this significant resource.
This is a developing story; there is no resolution to the proposed legislation, and the battle will continue between Idaho/Utah and Rocky Mountain Power. Please stay with us on this important issue as updates, decisions, and outcomes will be fluid and reported on accordingly.