Groups wrangling over Utah Power's plans to dredge a 2,000-foot channel in Bear Lake have reached an agreement, and plans for the dredging have been dropped for now.
The agreement, signed Monday, will result in the withdrawal of a federal lawsuit filed by homeowners around the lake who complained that the project would cause the lake's level to drop by another 4 feet.A news release said the agreement has been reached by "all irrigation companies in Idaho and Utah that have rights to water stored annually in Bear Lake, citizens groups and homeowners seeking to protect Bear Lake and PacifiCorp," the parent company of Utah Power.
The parties have also reached an agreement for future water allocations from the lake, which straddles the Utah-Idaho border 90 miles north of Salt Lake City.
The lake, a popular summer destination and recreation spot, has been hard hit by several years of drought. Its level has dropped over the years, exposing hundreds of yards of beaches, and is at its lowest point in a century.
Utah Power wanted to dredge the channel so there is enough water to produce electricity at its six hydroelectric plants along the lower Bear River.
A citizens group, led by former football star Merlin Olsen, sued the Army Corps of Engineers last December to prevent it from issuing a permit to Utah Power for the dredging to proceed.
PacifiCorp said there is sufficient water this year to forgo the dredging project. A hearing scheduled to argue the issue before the Idaho Department of Lands next week has also been canceled.
The parties to the settlement have agreed to form the Bear Lake Preservation Advisory Committee, which will serve as a forum for discussions and negotiations about the lake's future.
Among its goals will be water, soil and energy conservation.
"This agreement opens a new chapter in Bear Lake-Bear River history," Olsen said Monday in a joint news release.
Carly Burton, hydrological supervisor for PacifiCorp, said the process "will give everyone concerned about the lake appropriate input into the management of this valuable multiple-use resource."
Utah Power has operated the Bear Lake-Bear River system since 1909. Aside from the power plants, its water irrigates more than 150,000 acres of farmland.