Monday, 04 December 2017 13:09

Bear River Commission Comments from FRIENDS

Comments from Lynn de Freitas below, followed by additional commentary submitted by Wayne Wurtsbaugh. 

December 4, 2017

Re: 20-Year Compact Review Members of the Bear River Commission

On behalf of FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake (FRIENDS), thank you for this opportunity to comment on the need to amend the Bear River Compact. FRIENDS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization. Our mission is to increase public awareness and appreciation of the Lake and to preserve and protect the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem for future generations through education, research, advocacy, and the arts. Because Great Salt Lake is a terminal lake that is located at the bottom of a 22,000- square mile hydrologic drainage basin, the Lake depends on precipitation and water inflows from the watershed to sustain its important ecosystem services. These ecosystem services include critical habitats and food resources for millions of migratory birds that stage, rest and nest at the Lake, as well as important economic resources that include the brine shrimp industry, mineral extraction, recreation and tourism, and extraordinary archeological resources that are symbolic of this unique place in the Great Basin. On behalf of its members, FRIENDS participates in processes to protect and improve Great Salt Lake health and sustainability. We do this by helping to forge sustainable policy development and encourage management and regulatory measures that represent responsible stewardship practices.

For the purposes of these comments, I would like to encourage the Commission to reexamine the Compact in light of the devastating impact to the Great Salt Lake ecosystem that will result should development of the Bear River go forward as outlined in the Compact. Specifically, Article V of the Compact refers to further development of the remaining water in the Lower Division and specifies that: (1) Idaho shall have the first right to deplete 125,000 acre-feet of Bear River water; (2) Utah shall have the second right to deplete 275,000 acre-feet; and, (3) that both Idaho and Utah shall each have an additional right to deplete 75,000 acre-feet.

Should this additional 550,000 acre-feet of water be developed, the Utah Division of Water Resources estimates that the Lake could be lowered by as much as 12.3 feet. While such a drop in water level will essentially dry up both Bear River Bay and Farmington Bay, long before this occurs the increase in salinity in the dropping Lake will exceed a level that will destroy both the brine shrimp and brine fly populations that sustain over 7.5 million birds each year. Additionally, the likely impact on the $1.3 billion that the Lake contributes to Utah’s economy each year is incalculable.

Recognizing that the provisions of the Compact were agreed to in light of precipitation and water trends that have changed substantially in the last forty years, without regard to the “what if’s” of climate change and mega drought cycles, and at a time when we knew much less than we know now about the Lake, and its importance both ecologically and economically, I urge you to amend the Compact to account for these changed circumstances and to the known impacts these depletions will have to Great Salt Lake.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments and for the opportunity to submit them as a part of the 20-Year Compact Review.

In saline and sustainability,

Lynn de Freitas, Executive Director

FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake


Bear River Compact and the Great Salt Lake                                             Wayne Wurtsbaugh, Dec. 3, 2017

The Bear River Compact needs to be modified to incorporate the current understanding of the value and of the hydrology of Great Salt Lake. When the Compact was formed, the public assumed that any water that reached the lake was wasted. However, we now understand the critically important role of this water for industry, aquaculture, recreation, health, climate control and bird populations of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem. The dollar value of the lake is currently assessed at $1.3 billion (Bioeconomics 2012), but that value does not include intrinsic cultural or ecological values, nor the value of the lake for protecting human health and providing an abundant snowpack in the Wasatch Mountains.    

To date, water use for agriculture, urban and other uses has lowered the lake 11 ft. from its natural level (Wurtsbaugh et al. 2017; Wurtsbaugh et al. 2016), and exposed 590,000 acres (54%) of the lakebed. The shallow and critically important Bear River Bay and Farmington Bay estuaries have 75%-85% of their areas dried during the summer, limiting habitat for water birds. The exposed lakebed allows dust storms to impact the Wasatch Front cities, creating respiratory problems (Griffin and Kellogg 2004) for the population.   Water development of the Bear River has already compromised the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.      

The current plan of the Bear River Compact allows for an additional 550,000 acre-feet of water to be depleted from the system, which will greatly decrease flows into Great Salt Lake.   The median estimate of the impact of this flow reduction would be to lower the lake an additional 4.5 ft. from current conditions, expose a total of 680,000 acres of lakebed, decrease the volume to 30% of natural, and increase salinities in the south arm of the lake (Gilbert Bay) to ~220 g/L.   Bear River and Farmington Bays would be dry during most of the year. Note, however, that the potential impact of the 550,000 acre-feet of water depletion is even more severe, and maximum estimates of this by the Utah Division of Water Resources suggest that the lake could be lowered an additional 10 ft., exposing approximately 785,000 acres of lakebed, decreasing the volume to 20% of the natural value and increasing salinity to near saturation. Given the range of predictions from the median to the maximum impacts, it is obvious that more work on the hydrology of the watershed is needed, but both scenarios indicate that flow reductions would have profound impacts on the environment and human health.

To put these impacts in perspective, managers need to consider the desiccation of Owens Lake in southern California.   When water was diverted from the lake it dried completely, exposing 70,000 acres of lakebed. Dust storms have impacted the health of the small community of Bishop and even more distant cities. To mitigate these impacts, the Los Angeles will spend $3.6 billion over 25 years to protect the health of residents (Ramboll Environ US Corporation 2016). Consider what the impacts could be on the 2.5 million residents of the Wasatch Front if 685,000-785,000 acres of the lakebed of Great Salt Lake are exposed!   Additionally, the ecology of the lake would be severely damaged. The dried estuary areas would greatly reduce bird use. Brine shrimp populations, which are important source of food for birds and the $60 million dollar aquaculture industry, would be decimated.   If salinities increased to 220 g/L, brine shrimp production would be reduced to less than 10% of that at natural lake levels (Barnes and Wurtsbaugh 2015), and if salinities increased to near saturation, brine shrimp and all invertebrate food production in the lake would disappear--we would have another "Dead Sea". It is fortunate that the Bear River Compact is under review, given that we now realize the major impacts that additional water development would have on the lake.

Major water depletions of fresh water from the Bear River and other tributaries of the lake are not warranted until we maximize conservation of this precious resource. The future growth of the Wasatch Front is sometimes cited as a need for water development in Utah. However, given that Utah currently has among the highest per capita water use in the country, and that people in cities such as Tucson use only 50% of what Salt Lake City residents use, it is clear that we have tremendous potential to conserve water.   Water conservation programs in the agricultural sector also need to be implemented and enforced. Modification of existing, and outdated water laws in the tristate region could also allow significant transfers of water from the agricultural sector to provide for the expanding urban population and to protect Great Salt Lake and other natural systems (Clyde 2016).

Thank you for considering my input, and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions. Wayne Wurtsbaugh, Emeritus Professor, Utah State University (


Barnes, B.D., and Wurtsbaugh, W.A. 2015. The effects of salinity on plankton and benthic communities in the Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA: a microcosm experiment. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 72(6): 807-817.

Bioeconomics, I. 2012. Economic significance of the Great Salt Lake to the State of Utah. Great Salt Lake Advisory Council (Activities), Salt Lake City, Utah.

Clyde, S.E. 2016. Water rights for Great Salt Lake: is it the impossible dream? p. 1-29, Utah Water Law, CLE International, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Griffin, D.W., and Kellogg, C.A. 2004. Dust storms and their impact on ocean and human health. EcoHealth 1: 284-295.

Ramboll Environ US Corporation. 2016. Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District: 2016 Owens Valley Planning Area PM10 State implementation plan. Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, Bishop, California. 1494 p.

Wurtsbaugh, W.A., Miller, C., Null, S.E., DeRose, R.J., Wilcock, P., Hahnenberger, M., Howe, F., and Moore, J. 2017. Decline of the world's saline lakes. Nature Geoscience 10(11): 816-821 (DOI: 810.1038/ngeo3052).

Wurtsbaugh, W.A., Miller, C., Null, S.E., Wilcock, P., Hahnenberger, M., and Howe, F. 2016. Impacts of Water Development on Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front. White paper issued from the Quinney College of Natural Resources (Utah).

Friday, 01 December 2017 11:30

Join us for our Holiday Open House

2017 Holiday Open House 2

Join FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake for our annual Holiday Open House.

Thursday, December 7 from 5:30-9:00 at the FRIENDS' office: 150 South 600 East, St, 2B in Salt Lake City. 

Pop in, raise a glass in celebration of Great Salt Lake, and connect with FRIENDS. 




Screen Shot 2017 11 30 at 8.22.54 AM

 The Great Salt Lake in Utah is roughly the same area as 75 Manhattans. It feeds and houses millions of birds of hundreds of species, provides the namesake of Utah’s capital city and some credit it for the state’s trademarked claim to “the greatest snow on earth.”

And it’s vanishing.

Since 1847, the volume of water in the lake has dropped nearly 50 percent. More recently, the change has been so dramatic, you can see it from space. In 2016, the Great Salt Lake reached its lowest levels in recorded history.

“Do we want to in 50 years change the name of our city to Salt City because the lake has gone away?” asked Wayne A. Wurtsbaugh, a retired aquatic ecologist at Utah State University.

He and his colleagues reported in an analysis published in Nature Geoscience last month that human consumption — not seasonal fluctuations or climate change — is primarily to blame for the Great Salt Lake’s desiccation. They hope that creating a better understanding of water flowing into and out of the lake may serve as a model for managing salt lakes that face similar threats.

Continue reading the main story

Satellite images showing the Aral Sea, which crosses the borders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, in 2000, left, and again in 2014. CreditNASA Earth Observatory

The near collapse of salt lakes in places like Central Asia’s Aral Sea, Iran’s Lake Urmia and California’s Salton Sea deprived local environments of natural filtration systems, wildlife habitats and opportunities for human use. Left behind were dust storms that threaten human health and agricultural fields.

In the case of the Great Salt Lake, the researchers warn that another 30 square miles of lake bed could be exposed in the next 30 to 50 years if planned development and overuse continue.

Continue reading the main story

“Before we did this analysis people were just saying, ‘Oh the lake goes up; the lake goes down,’ ” Dr. Wurtsbaugh said. But natural variability in water levels and climate change are no longer excuses for inaction, he and his colleagues write.

When the researchers looked at historical data, they saw no trends in water level fluctuations. But development and water diversion since the mid-19th century have consistently reduced water entering the lake. Agriculture — including the use of water for alfalfa, pasture, hay, grain and corn — caused a significant loss.

Reliance on the lake’s waters by a growing population in recent years has been pushing the lake to its tipping point.

Iran’s shrinking Lake Urmia, shown in 1998, left, and 2011. CreditNASA Earth Observatory

“It isn’t the water use 100 years ago that had an effect,” he added. “It’s really the last 15 to 20 years that are relevant to how the lake is now.”

To save bodies of water like Great Salt Lake, reducing consumption will be critical in arid basins, the authors argue. They recommend a careful analysis of how lake water is moving in and out of lake systems to identify distinct sources of declines, as they have with Great Salt Lake. Doing so will help regulators better weigh trade-offs between water use and maintaining lakes at sustainable levels.

These trade-offs have become apparent in previous approaches to preserving saline lakes. The Russian government built a $106 million dike in 2005 that sealed off the Aral Sea, which had been drying up because of agriculture. While this replaced a collapsed fishing industry with a smaller one, the Aral Sea is just 5 percent of the size it once was, and dust storms continue to be a problem.

An existing rail causeway dividing Great Salt Lake could similarly be used to manage lake levels. And continuing to divert water from the Colorado River Basin offers another potential solution, but not without costs.

Water conservation could also help. It worked to save Mono Lake in California. And in Tucson, Ariz., another arid basin, water collection, rock gardens with fewer plants and drip irrigation have significantly cut water use.


Monday, 30 October 2017 08:30

Bear River Commission Public Hearing

The Bear River Commission is undertaking a 20 year review of the Bear River Compact. A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, November 2, 2017 at 7:00 PM at the Utah Department of Natural Resources (1594 West North Temple, Salt Lake City).  


In addition to the public hearing, the Commission encourages the public to provide written comments.  All written and e-mail comments must be received at the Commission’s office by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, December 4, 2017. 


Bear River Commission

RE:  20-Year Compact Review

106 West 500 South, Suite 101

Bountiful, UT  84010


or via e-mail to:    


Jody L. Williams

Chair and Federal Commissioner


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 purposes of the Compact are 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 provided 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 were again causing 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.


In its April 2017 meeting, the Commission formally initiated the present 20 year review.  The Commission encourages members of the public to attend the November 2, 2017 public hearing.  Our Engineer-Manager will present background on the Bear River and the Compact and answer questions.  After the presentation, the Commission will take public comment.




Friday, 06 October 2017 10:05

International Coastal Cleanup Success

FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake participated in Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup on Saturday, September 16. Thanks to a sponsorship from Autoliv and a dumpster donation from Budget Dumpster, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake was able to remove 1,854 lbs. of trash and debris from the sensitive ecosystem around Lee Creek. 66 volunteers logged 198 hours. Special thanks to our partnering organizations: Autoliv, Budget Dumpster, Compass Minerals, Great Salt Lake Audubon, and The Nature Conservancy. 

Every year, International Coastal Cleanup Day brings together millions of volunteers all over the world to remove litter from coastlines, collecting everything from cigarette butts and plastic bottle caps to drinking straws and grocery bags. 

To read more from Budget Dumpster click here.


Click the following link to the RDCC website for comments that were submitted on the proposed Class V permit request by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, and the Utah Geological Survey office in the Department of Natural Resources for the latest on the Promontory Point Landfill.  Click Here

Aerial photograph courtesy of Charles Uibel. 


IMG 20170918 070721 2

Join HEAL, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake, and researchers at the University of Utah for a discussion about the environmental impacts of US Magnesium -- in particular focusing on the threats to air quality in Northern Utah.

The community event will be held Wednesday, September 13 from 6:30-8:30 at the Marmalade Library (280 West 500 North in Salt Lake City).

For a preview of Friends of Great Salt Lake's work, click here:


Facebook Event

Wednesday, 06 September 2017 10:52

Will Utah Dam the Bear River?

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?

Read More Here

Attached you will find comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the West Davis Corridor.

Comments on West Davis Highway FEIS 08312017.pdf


Monday, 14 August 2017 11:56

Utah's Water Plan Still Has Miles To Go

Conservation, not big diversion projects, is what the state needs.

by Lynn de Freitas, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake

by Amelia Nuding, Wester Resource Advocates 

On July 19, Utah’s 50-year State Water Strategy was released by the State Water Strategy Advisory Team. In an arid state where water is paramount to public health, the economy and the environment, the plan offers many sound and actionable strategies. Its focus on water conservation and better data management demonstrates responsible stewardship of Utah’s most precious natural resource. The state’s population is expected to nearly double over the next 50 years, and being increasingly efficient with every drop of water is absolutely necessary.

But it will be up to state policymakers, water utilities, and every individual to make sure we are good stewards of our water. The good news is there are literally dozens of cost-effective water-saving measures that can be implemented to reduce water waste without sacrificing our quality of life. Outdoor water use is one of the most important areas to focus on. As a first step, all water providers should install water meters to measure use of water used for outdoor irrigation – because you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Second, homes and businesses can install smart irrigation controllers to ensure that sprinklers are not watering when it’s raining or snowing, which will greatly reduce water waste while keeping landscapes beautiful.

Agriculture also has a role to play in our water future, as over 80 percent of Utah’s water is used for agriculture. The new State Water Strategy gets it right again by committing to maintain a robust agricultural economy while also exploring ways to help irrigators use water more efficiently. 

All that said, there is a major cart-before-the-horse problem with the plan. Two proposed water projects which would tap into the Colorado and Bear Rivers – the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Development Project – received plan support, in spite of the fact that the State acknowledges it does not have the data to justify the projects. Good data should be a prerequisite for any proposed water project, so that taxpayers who foot the bill know if there is actually a need for it or not.

These unnecessary water diversion projects will cost billions of dollars, take years to build, and threaten the health of Utah’s recreation-based economy. The Bear River Development Project also threatens the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, and the $1.3 billion economy that depends on it, including brine shrimp harvesting and mineral extraction processes. We have yet to make full and efficient use of our existing water supplies. We should optimize cheaper and safer water management alternatives first.

We’d like to thank the governor for convening this Advisory Team and for the hard work the Team put into this very important process. Now is the time to take action on the Strategy’s best elements to ensure that the cheapest, fastest, and best water management options for meeting our water future are fully realized before making taxpayers build unnecessary projects such as the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Project.

Link To Article in The Salt Lake Tribune 

Lynn de Freitas is the Executive Director of Friends of Great Salt Lake, whose mission is the preservation and protection of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.  Friends seeks to increase public awareness and appreciation of the Lake through education, research, advocacy, and the arts. 

Amelia Nuding is a Senior Water Resources Analyst at Western Resource Advocates, which works to protect the West’s land air and water so our communities thrive in balance with nature.  She has worked on western water policy issues for over 10 years, leveraging partnerships and developing innovative policies to advance smart water management for the benefit of our communities, environment and economy.


Why We Care

  • Years ago the Great Salt Lake was a entertainment destination for the people of Salt Lake City. One of my ancestors had a vacation home near Black Rock, where he would take his family to escape the heat and cares of the city. That was a long time ago and a lot has changed since then. For many reasons the lake is not as popular as it once was. But it has been a source of peace, contemplation, and inspiration to me. I reflect on photos I have seen of the grand days of Saltair and the love of floating in the lake. I have done this myself on numerous occasions. I love the sensation of effortlessly floating. And we can escape the cares of the world.

    Clinton Whiting, Alfred Lambourne Prize Participant