WEU: The Bear River and the Great Salt Lake

  • November 13, 2016
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By John Worlock, Member of the Board of Directors of Save Our Canyons

          We are alarmed by what we will call the Bear River Water Grab, a plan for a series of dams and a pipeline to carry Bear River Water to consumers on the Wasatch Front.  Scare yourself by reading about it on this website: utahrivers.org.

          For this message, we’ve adapted some beautiful words from the writer Barbara K. Richardson, writing in the Newsletter of Friends of Great Salt Lake, found at fogsl dot org.

          She writes that damming the Bear River is as smart as putting a tourniquet around Utah’s neck. This three-state, wandering waterway is the Great Salt Lake’s largest tributary, and North America’s largest river that does not reach the sea. Though tapped for agriculture, the Bear River still has free-flowing sections and the river’s course moves with a river’s own intelligence. The Bear flows 350 miles—on a map it resembles the trajectory of an arrow shot skyward—from the Uintas in central Utah up through a corner of Wyoming into Idaho, then courses south to Utah with its curves and oxbows and meanders slowing erosion and creating the soil of the living valleys that we plant, enjoy and cherish. The Bear River’s waters end their trip at the wild marshes on the north-eastern shores of the Great Salt Lake, home to a national flyway for more birds than anyone can count. But of course people do try. They’ve tallied tundra swans, cinnamon teals, black-necked stilts, snowy plovers, avocets, marbled godwits, curlews, phalaropes, to name a few, and an array of wheeling gulls.

          To see the beauty of a river’s intelligence firsthand, go to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Go and be deliciously small in the grand, wide world.

          While there, try not to think about this: that two million people and the animals, plants, and insects who are their neighbors in Utah’s most populous region will suffer if the Bear no longer pours into the lake. As the lake dries up, the dirt, dust, salt and heavy metals held deep in the lake’s body will become airborne, settling over the Salt Lake Valley in the layers of a new Dust Bowl.

          Richardson’s mantra is: “We can and we will pass this river on, intact.”