Water History of Bear Lake

1898 The Utah Sugar Co. and the Telluride Power Co. propose to divert the Bear River into Bear Lake for water storage.

1912 The project is taken over by Utah Power & Light (UP&L) and results in the construction of the diversion dam on Bear River, the Rainbow canal and the pumping station at Camp Lifton. The projects are completed in 1918.

1917 Law suites by UP&L against irrigators and other power companies attempt to secure UP&L's "power rights". Idaho irrigators file a cross complaint to insure their "irrigation rights". Settled by the 1920 Dietrich Decree which granted UP&L diversion rights of 5,500 cubic feet per second of Bear River water into the lake for storage.

1922 The Kimball Decree settles litigation by irrigators in Utah counties of Cache and Box Elder. The Decree also recognized UP&L's right to divert Bear River and store water in Bear Lake for downstream power generation.

1922-35 A drought and continued pumping at the Lifton Pumping Staion drops lake levels to 5902 ft., - nearly 22 ft below the natural level.

1935-36 Property owners try unsuccessfully to legislate a "minimum pool" in Bear Lake. According to Geo. Dunn, a former member of the Bear River Commission, the opposition by downstream water users won early legislative efforts.

1946 Congress consents to the formation of a tri-state negotiation to settle Bear River water disputes between the upper basin Wyoming users and the downstream users in Idaho and Utah.

1958 The 12 year negotiations result in the Bear River Compact and the formation of the Bear River Commission.

1973 The Bear Lake Regulatory Commission is formed to . . .

1986-92 Another extended drought and continued depletion of lake levels by UP&L at Camp Lifton drops the lake level from 5924 ft. to 5905 ft.

1991 During the Summer, Bear Lake citizens form several groups to protect their property interests and preserve Bear Lake.

1992 UP&L files and application to dredge a canal so that they can pump Bear Lake down to 5890 ft. - - a full 34 ft. below the natural lake level.

1993 On May 6th, a 75 year old dam, build to contain and filter the muddy spring runoff water of Bear River by UP&L at the North end of the lake , collapses, releasing 25,000 acre ft. of water and accumulated sediment from Mud Lake into Bear Lake. UP&L disclaims any responsibility and then refuses to scientifically assess the impact or restore the dam to its previous functionallity. Instead, the dam is rebuilt so that the silt of Mud Lake is flushed into Bear Lake instead of Mud Lake acting as a filter for the muddy spring runoff.

In June, the Boulder CO. based Land and Water Fund (Law Fund) offered to provide pro bono representation for the citizens efforts to restore and protect Bear Lake. It also provided guideance for forming and incorporating Bear Lake Watch.

Aug. 6th First meeting of Bear Lake Watch. The unaminous objective is to protect the lake and gain support for enforcement of citizen rights and natural resources laws.

1994 In April, a study of Bear Lake by Dr. David Budge titled "An Analysis of Beach and Biota Damage at Bear Lake" concludes "Bear Lake has been poisoned by calcium carbonate, plant and animal habitat have been destroyed by fluctuating water levels, and critical nutrients have been removed for the lake ecosystem.
The Summer of 94 is one of the driest water years on record. Pumping contnues.

In December, a law suit initiated by the Law Fund and Bear Lake Watch alleges illegal issuance of a permit to UP&L by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Specifically, the suit contends that the permit to UP&L violated the Clean Water Act, Section 404, and also violated the National Environemntal Protection Act (NEPA) because an environmental impact statement had not been accomplished before granting the permit.

1995 On April 10th, the Bear River Settlement accord was reached between Pacifcorp (formerly UP&L) and the Bear River Irrigators, Bear Lake Watch and concerned Bear Lake citizens. In a nutshell, the mutual goals were:
- promote water conservation and efficient use practices.
- promote more reliable water supplies in Bear Lake and Bear River for all users.
- promote soil and energy conservation and improved water quality.
- pursue means other than litigation to resolve conflicts.
- periodically review water allocation proposals.
- promote the concept of a single allocation model for the administration of water on Bear River and Bear Lake.

In May the first meeting of the Bear Lake Preservation Advisory Committee . . . .

1996 The first of three wet years. Through the conservation practices initiated with the Bear Lake Settlement, continued talks with irrigators and ranchers and a generous Mother Nature, the water level rises to 5922.69 ft.

1997 Bear Lake continues to rise. Improved water management practices was a dominant issue among all users. At the Bear Lake Preservation Advisory Committee meeting, the stated goals were "To promote water conservation and efficient use pracitices. . . . and to improve water quality."
Bear Lake Watch initiates a ecosystem study of Bear Lake by Dr. Wayne Wurtsbaugh.

In November, the Bear River Compact is amended. Prior compacts had never addressed environmental issues or the rights of citizens. A 4th standing committee with a member from each state, was established and assigned to water quality matters. The amended compact failed however, to define the terms "multiple purposes" and "public rights".

1998 The Wurtsbaugh study is completed and concludes "The water level fluctuations caused by Bear River diversions and withdrawals from Bear Lake probably cause more serious problems than does the nutrient loading. . . . (The lake ) should have come into equilibrium with the increased Bear River loading over 50 years ago." This differed from the conclusion of a previous 1972 study.

Water History of Bear Lake
Photographer: Unknown -



Copyright 2002-2009 by Michael L. Jex & William R. Stirling