A study released by the State of Utah last week provides a new outline for how the Bear River could be dammed and channeled to provide water in the future for the rapidly growing population along the Wasatch Front and throughout northern Utah.
The latest feasibility study regarding the Bear River Development project came from the Utah Division of Water Resources. It outlines 13 potential reservoir combinations and pipeline alignments, and provides updated cost estimates for future water projects on the Bear River.
At full development, the Bear River project would deliver 220,000 acre-feet (enough water to cover one acre, one foot deep) to residents in Box Elder, Cache, Davis, Salt Lake and Weber counties.
Four area water districts would be in charge of purchasing and delivering the water as allowed by the Bear River Development Act of 1991. Under that legislation, the Bear River Water Conservancy District and Cache Water District would control 60,000 acre-feet each, while the Weber Basin and Jordan Valley conservancy districts would each get 50,000 acre-feet.
Eric Millis, director of the Division of Water Resources, said in a news release that the latest study builds on previous studies and updates hydrology, data and population projections.
“When the legislation passed almost 30 years ago, the projected need for this water was in 2015,” Millis said. “Thanks primarily to conservation efforts, new technology and some smaller water development projects, current projections indicate the need for this project has been pushed out between 2045 to 2050.”
Thirteen different conceptual design scenarios have also been evaluated “to determine the most effective and least costly potential reservoir combinations,” the news release stated.
Cost estimates for the different scenarios range from $1.5 to $2.8 billion. Under the Bear River Development Act, the state will fund the planning, studies, design, construction and environmental mitigation costs of the system, and the four water districts involved will repay the state.
Under one scenario that would provide the entire needed water supply at the lowest cost, the cost to build dams, piplelines and other infrastructure would come to $470.4 million within the Bear River Water Conservancy District. That would mean an annual repayment of $21.9 million from the district to the state, at an annual cost of $365 per acre-foot.
The study looks at several potential reservoir sites in Box Elder County, including White’s Valley, Washakie (near Plymouth), Fielding and South Willard. It also looks at several possibilities in Cache County.
“As development has increased, particularly in Weber and Box Elder counties, we recognized the need to acquire land and rights-of-way (as authorized in the Act) to reduce future impacts to surrounding communities and also save costs,” said Marisa Egbert, planning manager for the project. “We are currently working with willing sellers and UTA to acquire properties for corridor preservation.”
While the Bear River system is expected to deliver 220,000 acre-feet annually, the state said not all the water is expected to be depleted from the watershed. Return-flow projections show that at full development, an estimated 85,600 acre-feet would be depleted from the watershed. Current modeling indicates this amount of depletion from the Great Salt Lake watershed would reduce the lake level by an average of about 8.5 inches and as much as 14 inches, according to a 2016 white paper published by Utah State University, Water Resources, Salt Lake Community College and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
The project is currently in the planning phase and will eventually undergo an environmental process through the National Environmental Policy Act prior to final design and construction. The next steps in the planning phase include additional studies concerning climate variability and Great Salt Lake modeling, studying additional pipeline corridor options and corridor preservation.
To review the feasibility study online in greater detail, visit Water.Utah.Gov/Bear-River.