Proposed Bear River Development Would Be Detrimental to People and BirdsProposed Bear River Development Would Be Detrimental to People and Birds

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This week, Utah's Department of Natural Resources released their 2019 update of the Bear River Development Feasibility Study. The study lays out 13 scenarios for developing 220,000 acre feet annually from the Bear River with storage for 400,000 to 600,000 acre feet. The proposed project would divert Bear River flows in the winter and during high spring runoff, meaning less water would flow into Bear River Bay and Great Salt Lake at important times of year. Some estimates show the depletion would drop lake levels by an average of 8.5 to 14 inches.

Marcelle Shoop, Director of the Saline Lakes Program for the National Audubon Society, said:

"Bear River is the most significant tributary of Great Salt Lake. The river’s many habitats, along with Bear River Bay, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and Willard Spur provide sanctuary to millions of migratory birds each year including species like the Marbled Godwit, the American Avocet, and the Cinnamon Teal. Significant diversions of Bear River flows threaten Great Salt Lake's water levels, which are already on a long-term decline due to current diversions, drought, and a changing climate. Sustained declines in water and lakes jeopardize not only birds, but also the overall health of Great Salt Lake, public health, social well-being and Utah’s economy. Audubon will continue its work to protect the lake's inflows as well as Bear River Bay, one of five globally Important Bird Areas on Great Salt Lake."

Improvements in water conservation and technology helped ensure the Bear River development project was postponed until at least the 2045-2050 timeframe because the water was not yet needed for municipal and industrial uses. Utah needs to continue efforts to prioritize and incentivize practices and programs that reduce water demand and encourage water conservation, including efforts such as secondary water metering. Such improvements are critical across the state to address Utah’s projected population growth and the effects of climate change, and can help avoid the need for a major Bear River development project.

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