“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”
— Isak Dinesen, storyteller
And, for Utah, the Great Salt Lake.
For centuries, water has meant power. If you have water, you have power. Water is essential, especially in the western United States.
A recent application filed with the Utah Division of Water Rights, though, may threaten Utah’s greatest landmark. And the most controversial part of that application is the fact that those applying don’t know how, or if, the application will affect the Great Salt Lake.
Officials in Utah and Idaho have together submitted an application for control of 400,000 acre-feet of water in Bear Lake. (At least with the two states working together we have avoided The Great Utah/Idaho War.)
Emma Penrod from The Tribune reported that “Utah and Idaho water managers hope to ‘store and appropriate water’ in Bear Lake that in the past has been released from there for flood control purposes.”
Using other alternatives to control flooding in Bear Lake could allow Utah and Idaho to store this other water, which could raise the level of Bear Lake by a foot, therefore facilitating recreational uses. When drought comes, Utah and Idaho could then use the stored water “to boost municipal water supplies, to guarantee farmers have enough water to grow crops or to stabilize water levels on the Great Salt Lake downstream,” Penrod reported.
But environmentalists, including Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of Great Salt Lake, worry that the lack of actual plans for the stored water could result in diverting water from the Great Salt Lake’s tributaries and from the lake itself.
They also worry the water will be used to supply the unpopular Bear River Development Project. Officials who have filed the application say that isn’t the case, and that potential development along Bear River already has existing water supplies.
But again, the uncertainty and lack of detail in the application itself casts doubt on the need for the stored water and how exactly that water will be used.
Even putting aside the controversial Bear River Development Project, for Utah, anything that diverts water from Great Salt Lake tributaries is problematic. And while officials argue that the applied-for water could actually be used to increase levels of the Great Salt Lake, it seems that such promises are as illusory as they are unlikely.
Officials should be more clear on their intentions before we hand over the control — the power — of this much water.