Will Utah Dam the Bear River?

06 September 2017 Published in News & Events

The Wasatch Front faces drier times and a growing population, threatening Great Salt Lake.

by Emily Benson of High Country News

Amid the wave of dams coming down across the nation, several places are bucking the trend. New dams have been proposed in California, Colorado, Utah and other Western states. The motivations behind the projects are complex, but in some cases the same fears drive dam defenders and detractors alike: a drier future and rising populations.

Utah is seeking additional water sources to address its growth. There, legislators decreed in 1991 that the Bear River, the Great Salt Lake’s largest tributary, should host a water development project. Two and a half decades later, scientists, policy experts, environmentalists, residents and water managers are still grappling with whether or not — and how — to move forward with damming the Bear.

The answers they come to will have consequences for the $1.3 billion generated each year by industries reliant on the Great Salt Lake. The lake’s ecology, its wetlands and the millions of migratory birds that depend on it are also at risk — as is the health of the more than 2 million people who live nearby and could breathe in harmful dust from a drying lakebed. Caught between the dire costs of construction and the specter of dwindling water supplies, the Bear River diversion forces uncomfortable questions. Does it make sense to build a new dam project, decades after the heyday of big dams is over? How do you decide?

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Why We Care

  • We should bill the lake for what it is—a place of grandeur and solitude, which nourishes our thoughts and heightens our sensitivity to nature. Seen in that light, the brine flies become a fascinating curiosity more than an annoyance. The Great Salt Lake offers a wilderness experience, not a beach party, and no amount of promotion and development will change that.

    Dean L. May, Images of the Great Salt Lake

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