Bear River Watershed Description
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The Bear River Basin, which is located in northeastern Utah, southeastern Idaho, and southwestern Wyoming, comprises 19,425 km²7,500 square miles of mountain and valley lands. The Bear River crosses state boundaries five times and is the largest stream in the western hemisphere that does not empty into the ocean; instead it ends up in the Great Salt Lake. It ranges in elevation from 1,283 meters4,211 ft. to nearly 3,962 meters13,000 ft.. This landscape is unique in that it is entirely enclosed by mountains, thus forming a huge basin with no external drainage outlets. The Bear River is the largest tributary to the Great Salt Lake.
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Agricultural lands throughout the basin, both developed and undeveloped, as well as urban areas are located in valleys along the main "stem" of the river and its tributaries. In addition to these private lands, the Bear River watershed includes vast amounts of federal (both Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service) and state lands that serve a wide range of natural and agricultural functions, each of which generates unique impacts and demands on water resources.
Major water uses in the Bear River Basin include: agriculture, irrigation, municipal and industrial uses, power generation, and recreation.The Bear River Commission was formed by compact in 1958 to allocate water use throughout the basin. The Bear River's average annual inflow to the Great Salt Lake is nearly 1.5 billion kiloliters1.2 million acre feet, and with this plentiful water supply, the Bear River Basin is one of the few areas remaining in the state of Utah with a significant amount of developable water. It is anticipated that Bear River water will eventually be developed to satisfy the growing needs of areas within and outside the basin. Urban growth along the Wasatch front, primarily in Salt Lake, Davis, and Weber counties, has planners projecting a need to import Bear River water in the next 20 to 30 years.
Currently, there are (combined) 52 streams and 9 lakes in the basin that are listed on 303(d) lists of impaired waters for Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. (See water quality and pollutant sources)
Eleven water quality management plans, known as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), have been completed. An additional 42 TMDLs are being developed. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a TMDL is “a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards.”
Money from EPA 319 and USDA EQIP, as well as landowner matches and other programs, have been used to fund past and ongoing water quality projects throughout the watershed
Water quality management in the Bear River Basin is complicated by the transboundary nature of the river, which meanders through three states and two EPA Regions with multiple jurisdictions and planning authorities. This has resulted in fragmentation in water quality improvement efforts. The ad hoc Bear River Water Quality Task Force was formed in 1993 to facilitate management of this multi-state watershed. The Bear River Commission created a water quality committee, which provides a more formal arrangement between the water quality heads of the three states. The Bear River Water Quality Task Force now serves as unofficial staff to this committee, which has enhanced interstate communication and cooperation concerning water quality issues throughout the basin. The Bear River Water Quality Task Force and water quality committee have identified the following needs for more fully integrated watershed management: innovative and cost-effective water quality solutions, a common source of merged datasets and planning tools, and a means to identify impacts and predict responses of program implementation on a basin-wide basis.
The Bear River Water Quality Task Force and water quality committee have identified the following needs for watershed management:
- Innovative and cost-effective water quality solutions
- A common source of merged datasets and planning tools
- A means to identify impacts and predict responses of program implementation within the basin
To learn more about the major subwatersheds within the Bear River Watershed or about the watershed collectively, click in the list below or on the map above.
- Bear River Watershed (entire watershed)
- Bear Lake
- Central Bear
- Lower Bear-Malad
- Middle Bear
- Middle Bear-Logan
- Upper Bear
Water quality problems include:
- Fecal coliform bacteria
- Low dissolved oxygen
- High water temperature
Pollutant sources include:
- Animal feeding operations
- Wastewater treatment
- Degraded stream banks
- Urban development
- Oil and gas exploration