The Bear River is under continuous threat due to the Bear River Development Act which charges the State of Utah to develop 220,000 acre-feet of water from the Bear River- the Great Salt Lake’s single largest source of water.
The State of Utah and several local water suppliers are proposing to divert the Bear River upstream of its confluence with the Great Salt Lake. A state report issued in November 2012 estimates the cost of the proposed project at $1.5 billion. The water project would divert 20 percent of the Bear River’s annual flow and lower the average depth of the Great Salt Lake by 2 – 4 feet or more, drying up tens of thousands of acres of wetlands.
The Great Salt Lake is the largest wetland ecosystem in the American West. Its ~400,000 acres of shoreline wetlands create an amazing ecosystem supporting between 8 – 10 million migratory birds traveling across the Western Hemisphere from as far south as Chile, north to the Arctic Circle and as far west as Siberia. Over 230 migratory bird species depend upon the shoreline wetlands of the Great Salt Lake during their global migrations with some species gathering in greater numbers than anywhere else on the planet.
The purpose of the proposed Bear River diversion is ostensibly to provide additional lawn water for residents in Salt Lake, Davis and Weber Counties. Under the Bear River Development Act of 1992, the State of Utah is charged with developing 220,000 acre-feet of Bear River water, largely for use on lawns along the Wasatch Front. Although some water suppliers would have us believe we are on the verge of a water crisis, the truth is Utahns are America’s most wasteful water users. Even Las Vegas residents use far less water than most Wasatch Front residents, a dubious distinction to be sure.
The proposed Bear River diversion could easily be eliminated by reducing water demand. Although some Wasatch Front water suppliers have worked to lower water use, most ignore or campaign against using simple market economics to lower water use. Water rates along the Wasatch Front are some of the lowest in the country because water suppliers encourage waste by lowering the price of water. This is achieved by collecting property taxes to reduce or subsidize the price of water.
Residents of the Wasatch Front must ask themselves if they wish to dry up tens of thousands of acres of wetlands around the Great Salt Lake simply to grow grass. Many local cities still require developers to install grass landscapes with new homes, which is an absurd mandate in the second driest state in the nation.