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Box Elder County and federal officials have criticized the proposed freshwater "Lake Wasatch" on the Great Salt Lake, saying such a project could cause extensive ecological damage and trigger a water war.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representative said at a meeting Tuesday of the Great Salt Lake Development Authority that a manmade freshwater lake on the briny inland sea could threaten prime wetlands and force the government to reassess plans to spend some $22 million on rehabilitation and expansion of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge."If the Great Salt Lake is freshened up, you're going to impact the entire ecology," said Al Trout of the federally operated wildfowl refuge. "We're going to be looking at all kinds of spin-off problems."

Box Elder County Commissioner Frank Nishiguchi, and a member of the Box Elder Water Conservancy District, told the development board that Bear River water supplies are finite and also largely spoken for.

He said any efforts to allocate Bear River water for a freshened Lake Wasatch on the eastern side of the Great Salt Lake would be opposed fiercely in Box Elder County.

"If you're going to be going after the same water we are, you're going to have the damnedest fight you've ever seen," Nishiguchi told the board.

State Treasurer Ed Alter, a member of the development authority, reminded participants that the authority had not endorsed a specific Lake Wasatch proposal and was only checking the feasibility of such a project.

"We don't have a proposal. We don't have anything," he said.

The development authority was created by the 1989 Legislature with orders to investigate the feasibility of diking the eastern portion of the Great Salt Lake to create a fresh-water body for recreation and other development.