For six months, a governor-appointed task force has wrestled with questions of what to do with Utah's last great undeveloped water source - the Bear River. So far, the members have not come up with any specific recommendations for using the state's 350,000 acre feet share of that water, an enormous resource.
At the moment, much of the water goes to waste, ending up in the briny shallows of the Great Salt Lake. Idaho is not using its share, either.The task force agrees that the Bear River water ought to be developed and has explored as many as 10 possible reservoir projects in a very preliminary way. But with the 1990 Legislature due to meet in about 10 weeks, the task force needs to begin moving from generalities to at least some specifics.
The task force has been torn between Box Elder County's immediate need for irrigation, municipal and industrial water vs. Salt Lake County's future needs for municipal and industrial water.
How water from the Bear River is taken and stored depends heavily on whether Box Elder's needs are served quickly and without considering long-range supplies for Salt Lake County or whether both areas are taken into account when planning a reservoir system.
Clearing up that policy split is a first priority.
Certainly, Box Elder's needs are urgent. No new wells can be drilled in the northern Utah county, and other water sources must be found. Applications for water from various canal companies far outnumber the ability to supply water. Officials say they may not be able to wait for any long-term solutions from Bear River supplies.
On the other hand, Salt Lake County does not need any of the Bear River water in the short term - perhaps not for decades. More information is needed on this problem. Yet when that day does come, a system should exist to supply the need.
No federal money would be involved in developing the Bear River, only Utah and Idaho state funds. The cost is another obstacle that must be confronted. Since users will be hit with much of the cost, the water could be expensive - $350 to $1,000 an acre foot delivered in Salt Lake County.
Water quality is another concern. Bear River water has been described as no better than Jordan River water. It would require extensive treatment to qualify for municipal use.
These problems may cause some people to dismiss the idea of using Bear River water, but in an arid state like Utah, such a vast resource cannot be ignored indefinitely.
Given the long lead time before water is actually produced by such undertakings - the Central Utah Project is still incomplete after 25 years - Utah should be making a serious effort to get things moving more quickly on the future of the Bear River.