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

  • Great Salt Lake, the second most hypersaline Inland Sea in the world, has a fate of becoming even more salty with permanent loss of a large portion of its Bear River fresh water life supply.

    Precious fresh water diverted to support more of the same, the endless expansion of the human race, big box stores, and shopping centers duplicated around the country ruining any future adventure of small town exploration and road trips.

    Everything is becoming the same. Everyone is looking the same. Everyone does the same things. Great Salt Lake is unique and the planet is loosing it as its life blood is stolen from its soft salty shores, waves gently breaking further and further out, leaving vast arrays of dry barren mudflats waiting for phragmites to invade.

    Utah does not own Great Salt Lake. Great Salt Lake is owned by the world.

    Karri Smith, Alfred Lambourne Prize Participant

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