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A state water official says it's time to quit studying whether another reservoir should be built along the Utah stretch of the Bear River and either stand pat or move ahead with it.

"What are your interests? Should we build a project?" Dennis Strong, assistant director of the Division of Water Resources, asked the Cache County Water Advisory Board earlier this month."If no one needs this water for 20 years, we can take what we've got, put it on a shelf, turn a light on and keep it warm," he said.

Strong handed out copies of a sample contract that would give Cache County residents, municipalities and canal companies access to Bear River water.

Under a 1991 law passed by the Utah Legislature, the state authorized development of 220,000 acre-feet of Bear River water - 50,000 acre-feet each for the Salt Lake and Weber water conservancy districts and 60,000 each for Box Elder and Cache counties.

A possible dam and 150,000 acre-foot reservoir at Honeyville, in Box Elder County, would be the first project.

"That's our least-cost alternative," Strong said. "A lot of people in Box Elder County are mad as h--- at the Honeyville Dam, and we haven't said we're going to build a dam there."

But if that is the best place, and there is enough demand, objections from Box Elder residents wouldn't be enough to kill a Honeyville dam, Strong said.

To develop that water, 70 percent of it would have to be subscribed to before construction could start. Strong expects the Weber and Salt Lake water conservancy districts would snap up their shares immediately in anticipation of more residential and industrial growth.

Trenton resident Jerry Simmons of the Bear River Water Users Association, a collection of canal companies that irrigate with river water, said the association would be willing to sign up for water. But those subscriptions hinge on whether the Utah water engineer decides well water sucked up in Cache County still has an effect on the level of the Bear River.

If so, then that stored water would be needed as "replacement" water for the canal companies, which own the oldest rights on the river.

If the Box Elder Water Conservancy District and enough Cache County water users are interested, Strong said, that could change the project from one that merely diverts the Bear River into freshwater Willard Bay, to one that stores water for canal companies, farmers and towns in the northern two counties.

"The bigger conservancy districts need a lot of water, and they need it faster than you," Strong said. Weber and Salt Lake water districts are building a huge, membrane-filter treatment plant for Bear River water.

The proposed state-managed project would sell subscriptions to water rather than water rights. Unlike many other water-storage projects, any Bear River water would still be state-owned.

Among the proposed 50-year contract requirements:

- Users who buy into the first project buy into all future projects. This would prevent the Wasatch Front from getting what it wants and then ignoring the later needs of the two northern counties. However, this also commits northern Utah users to pay higher rates when additional projects are built.

- Water will be paid for whether it is used or not. Getting the stored Bear River water to where the user wants it is the user's responsibility.

- Users will not be allowed to make a profit selling Bear River water.