SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A massive project to divert water from the Bear River to municipal water districts along the Wasatch Front is sparking debate between state agencies and conservation groups.
Depending on who you ask, it’s either a solution for a growing and thirsty population or an economic and environmental catastrophe in the making.
With Utah’s population expected to nearly double in the next 30 years, water sources are crucial.
“We’ve got this growth taking off and limited supplies left at this point with Bear River being one of those supplies left,” the Bear River Development’s Planning Manager Marisa Egbert said.
According to Utah Rivers Council Executive Director Zach Frankel, the proposed development would create a series of dams, reservoirs and pipelines to siphon H2O to four water districts instead of letting it flow into the Great Salt Lake.
“Proposed Bear River Development is a disaster for the Great Salt Lake,” Frankel told ABC4 News. “It would shrink down the lake and make it much smaller. It would create a legacy of air quality problems from the dust from the lakebed that’s no longer covered by water. It would dry up hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands that are important for migratory birds.”
Frankel says the massive cost of the project would sink the water districts into debt and soak the consumers.
“It will force gigantic increases in water rates for Wasatch Front residents and property tax payments for residents and businesses along the entire Wasatch Front,” he said. “The parties that are pushing Bear River Development include the state Division of Water Resources, the water districts and the contracting companies that want Utah taxpayers to spend $2.9 billion on this project.”
Egbert says that’s simply not true, claiming increased conservation efforts have already pushed back the need for Bear River water back from 2015 to 2035 and now to 2050.
“The four agencies that would deliver the water eventually, I’ve been working with them for years now, a decade and I’ve seen the efforts,” Egbert said. “They’ve put millions of dollars into conservation and education efforts, they’re putting millions of dollars into updated metering and better technology to push out that need. They are the ones sitting down with us saying Bear River Development can be pushed back more because of these efforts.”
The project is still in the planning and analysis stages. It will have to pass a federal environmental impact assessment before construction ever begins.