Is a dam really coming for Bear River?

The Great Salt Lake is facing a potential threat of a new dam on its largest tributary, the Bear River. The Bear River Development, a state-sponsored plan to store water and support growth in northern Utah, has been on the books since the 1990s. However, a recent emergency news release from Grow the Flow, an initiative aimed at garnering more support for the lake, has raised concerns about the potential construction of a dam in Box Elder County’s Whites Valley. This reservoir, if built, could lower the Great Salt Lake’s water levels and expose more lakebed, leading to dangerous blowing dust.

Despite rumors of an impending land purchase for a dam, most sources have been unable to confirm its legitimacy. Marisa Egbert, the state’s Bear River Development Manager, and a spokesperson for the Division of Water Resources have both denied any knowledge of plans for a dam.

The prolonged, multi-year drought in the region has exacerbated tensions over water supplies, with water managers in northern Utah expressing concerns about dwindling reservoirs and enacted restrictions. Scott Paxman, Weber Basin’s general manager, acknowledged conversations about the possibility of purchasing land for a reservoir but insisted that there is nothing imminent about this plan.

Historically, northern Utah has had a less secure water supply compared to central and southern parts of the state, which have been recipients of significant water development projects in the past. With the state facing growing communities and water supply issues up north, the conversation around water development in the region is gaining renewed attention.

In light of these concerns, former Rep. Timothy Hawkes suggested a different approach to water management, advocating for the development of pipelines to more fairly distribute existing water resources rather than constructing new dams.

As conversations around the potential dam continue, it remains to be seen how the Bear River Development will unfold and its potential implications for the Great Salt Lake and the surrounding communities.

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