Jody Williams

Holland & Hart; Federal Commissioner and Chair of the Bear River Commission


Jody Williams is a partner in Holland & Hart’s Energy, Environment and Natural Resources practice in the Salt Lake City office. She is a veteran water lawyer who has developed a national reputation for her creative problem solving in acquiring water supplies and adapting them for her clients’ needs, and then protecting those valuable assets so her clients’ businesses can thrive. 

Jody serves by appointment of the President of the United States as Federal Commissioner and Chair of the Bear River Commission, an interstate Compact Commission created among Utah, Idaho and Wyoming to apportion the Bear River and previously was appointed by President Bush to plan and oversee environmental mitigation for Utah’s largest water development project. She was a member of the Governor’s State Water Strategy Advisory Team, which presented its final report to Governor Herbert in July of 2017, and she was honored by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce for her longtime work informing businesses on water policy.   

Title: Bear River Commission: 20 Year Compact Review

Thursday, May 10th 3:25 PM

Abstract: The Bear River originates high in the Uinta Mountains in Utah, flows north past (but not into) Bear Lake before taking a sharp turn south, then flows through Idaho and back into Utah, eventually terminating in the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and Great Salt Lake.  It is the largest river in North America that does not flow to an ocean.  Although it is 500 miles long, it ends up only 90 miles from its headwaters, after crossing state lines between Utah, Wyoming and Idaho five times. The twenty year annual average of water discharging into Great Salt Lake is 850,000 acre feet.

With Congressional consent, the U.S. Constitution allows states to enter into agreements and interstate compacts.  Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, which all contribute water to the Bear River, were developing at different rates, and the three states recognized the need to equitably apportion the Bear River among them.  They requested permission from Congress to negotiate a compact, which was granted in 1946.  Negotiations continued until the three states signed the original Bear River Compact in 1955.  President Eisenhower signed the Compact in 1958.

The purpose of the Compact is to “remove the causes of present and future controversy over the distribution and use of the waters of the Bear River; to provide for efficient use of water for multiple purposes; to permit additional development of the water resources of Bear River; and to promote interstate comity.”  

Early irrigation appropriations in the three states left little water available for new uses and lead to conflicts.  The Bear River Compact provides a solution by grandfathering existing water rights, dividing the remaining water among the states, and authorizing new storage above Bear Lake.  It is important to note that although the Compact divides water among the three states, administration of water is directed by the individual states.  The Compact also created the Bear River Commission, composed of nine Commissioners, three representing each signatory state, and an additional Commissioner appointed by the President representing the United States, to serve without vote. 

The three states soon recognized that changes to the Compact were needed.  Issues such as unrestricted groundwater development, no limit on depletion of appropriated water, the need for additional storage development above Bear Lake and a potential race between Idaho and Utah to develop water below Bear Lake again caused conflict among the basin states.  In 1970, the states formally began amendment negotiations, and in 1976, they ratified an Amended Compact.  Congress approved the Amended Bear River Compact, and President Carter signed it in February of 1980.  The Amended Compact granted Idaho the first right to develop and deplete an additional 125,000 acre feet and Utah the second right to develop and deplete 275,000 acre feet below Bear Lake.  It authorized additional storage above Bear Lake under certain conditions.

Unlike many interstate compacts, Article XIV of the Bear River Compact requires the Commission to undertake a public review of the Compact every twenty years to see if changes are needed.  In 1997, the Commission undertook a 20 year review of the Compact.  After compiling written and oral comments, it found that there was no need to amend the Compact at that time but created a Water Quality Committee and added public involvement to the function of the existing Records Committee.

During its April 2017 meeting, the Commission formally initiated the present 20 year review, after which the Commission held a public hearing (November 2017) and took public comments from November 2, 2017 through December 2, 2017.