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Eye On Boise

State denies permit for 4th dam, new reservoir on last free-flowing stretch of Bear River

A proposal for a fourth dam and new reservoir on the Bear River in eastern Idaho - on the last free-flowing stretch of the river that's accessible to the public - has been rejected by the Idaho Department of Water Resources. The dam proposal, first submitted in 2007, drew vigorous opposition from anglers, recreationists and environmentalists, the Associated Press reports; the department found that the benefits of the dam wouldn't outweigh the benefits of keeping the river as-is, including its value to fisheries. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Idaho Water Dept. turns down Bear River dam permit
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Water Resources rejected a proposal to build a dam on the Bear River.

The Twin Lakes Canal Co. filed an application with the agency in 2007 to build a 700-foot-long, 108-foot-high dam in Oneida Narrows near Preston in eastern Idaho. The proposed dam would have created a reservoir with a surface area spanning more than half a mile.

The river already has three hydroelectric dams operated by PacifiCorp Energy, and the proposal for a fourth attracted vigorous opposition from anglers, recreationists and environmentalists.

Andrea Santarsiere of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition said the conservation group was happy with the decision involving the last free-flowing section of the Bear River that's accessible to the public.

"We commend the department for recognizing that keeping the river free-flowing has benefits to the imperiled native Bonneville cutthroat trout, wildlife, recreational use. All of that would have been lost if the dam went forward," Santarsiere said.

Officials with the Twin Lakes Canal Co. didn't immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The company wanted to build the dam because it typically doesn't have enough water to irrigate all the land of its shareholders.

In the written decision denying the permit, Idaho Water Resources Department officials said the public has an interest in augmenting the water supply to farmers, but the benefits of building the dam don't outweigh the benefits of keeping the river as is.

The river is a highly used fishery, department officials noted, and many of the animal species in the region rely on the water and riparian areas for food, cover and nesting.

The river is home to the Bonneville cutthroat trout, one of 14 cutthroat species in the West. The trout isn't listed as a threatened or endangered species, but in 2006 the Idaho Department of Fish and Game put in place more restrictive fishing regulations to help protect it in the Bear River.

The proposed reservoir would also lead to evaporation of some water, which would adversely affect the water rights of people downstream, the department found.

PacifiCorp Energy initially threw its support behind the proposed dam but backed away from the project after determining a new dam would conflict with its existing hydroelectric license.

The Bear River drains an area of 6,900 square miles in southwestern Wyoming, northern Utah and southeastern Idaho, carrying about a million acre-feet of water a year into the Great Salt Lake.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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