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Essentially all of the municipal, industrial and domestic water in the Bear River Watershed comes from high quality groundwater sources. Surface water quality in the Bear River Watershed varies widely due to human activity and natural effects.
In the upper Basin water quality is considered good. Water temperature, TDS (total dissolved solids), alkalinity, hardness and sulfates are all low. As the water flows downstream the quality deteriorates. Return flow from irrigation, sediment, animal waste, municipal and industrial wastewater, natural saline springs, agricultural chemicals, and increasing water temperatures all cause problems with water quality in the lower basin. Generally, each tributary stream shows a pattern of downstream deterioration, however, some are much better than others. In the Lower Bear River Basin water quality problems are usually from high phosphorus and total suspended sediment concentrations, which contribute to the eutrophication of reservoirs.
Riparian zones and flood plains are important habitat for wildlife, help improve water quality and buffer upland areas from flooding. Some of the riparian zones in the Bear River Watershed have been impacted by urban growth and agricultural practices such as construction, stream modification, or channelization. Some cattle management practices have also had a significant impact on riparian zones. Inadequate fencing can allow cattle direct access to streams which can result in trampled and degraded stream banks. Several fencing and re-vegetation projects have yielded favorable results.
In urban areas storm water runoff is a water quality problem. When storm water and snow-melt run off impervious surfaces (parking lots, streets, driveways, industrial areas, etc.) water picks up pollutants like salt, gasoline, oil and other harmful chemicals and pollutants. It then flows into streams and rivers without treatment. In some places, these flows may be detained in a retention basin which attenuates the flood effects. EPA regulations require many communities to detain and address pollutants in this water.