The Bear River water is historically the life blood of agriculture in Utah and parts of Idaho.
Curtis Marble, the president of the board of directors of the Bear River Canal Company, said Box Elder County is the breadbasket of agriculture in Utah and the Bear River is the reason for their success.
“I’ve not found anybody that can dispute that,” he said. “I’m one of the last farmers on the Bear River Canal Company.”
There are over 66,000 water shares in Box Elder County alone.
He said the canal company has the oldest water rights on the Bear River dating back to 1912.
“Pacific Corp has been good to us over the years,” he said, “and we have tried to be good to them.”
The canal water is used for farms from Fielding to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and an important part of the agricultural industry, not only in Utah but also Idaho.
Marble is one of three farmers in the state that grows peppermint and spearmint among his crops of yellow onions, wheat, corn, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, and cantaloupe.
From its source in the Uinta Mountains, the Bear River meanders through Wyoming and Idaho before returning to Utah via Cache Valley, and then heads to Box Elder County before ending up in the Great Salt Lake.
The Lifton Station, adjacent to North Beach State Park, pumps water from Bear Lake into the Bear River when it begins to wane.
Bear Lake Watch, a group that informs property owners of happenings in the Bear Lake vicinity, reported on July 10 that the Lifton Station began pumping water from the lake into Bear River. Bear Lake Watch is a group of citizens who have an interest in the lake and land around it.
“We are concerned about its future and how it’s managed,” said Co-Executive Director Claudia Cottle. “We represent people in the group of people who don’t live all year round in the Bear Lake area.
“We have an agreement and voice in matters and decisions dealing with the lake,” she said. “Bear Lake Watch is a conduit for information to people in Wyoming, Idaho and Utah.”
On Monday, it was reported the Lifton Station is pumping 1050 cfs of the lake into the Bear River. It is expected to hold steady for the next several weeks.
“The Lifton Station is operated by Rocky Mountain Power (RMP),” said Dave Eskelsen spokesman for the power company. “We only release water for agriculture, not for power.”
RPM contracts to deliver irrigation water to serve 150,000 acres of farmland in Utah and Idaho, producing crops valued at some $45 million annually.
Don Barnett, an engineering manager for the Bear River Commission, said, “Think of Bear Lake as a storage reservoir.”
He said some months they divert water from the Bear River into Bear Lake. This time of year, the Lifton Station pumps a lot of water into the Bear River.
“We think of the reservoir as being full from 5,902 ft to 5,920.65 feet. Each year we only use, at the most, 10 percent of capacity,” said Barnett. “When the lake gets below 5,914.7, no water can be pumped from Bear Lake, unless required for irrigation use.”
The current water level of Bear Lake is around 5,920 ft.
“Box Elder County holds the single largest water rights along the river and Last Chance Canal Company near Grace, Idaho is right behind,” Barnett said. “The Lifton station goes back to 1908 when the power company opened the pump station at Bear Lake for water power.”
He said Bear River hydropower was the lifeblood of Utah Power and Light. With five hydropower plants below Bear Lake (115,000 kw), it generated an estimated 75 percent of its total power production, as compared to less than 5 percent in 1990.
“There are several legal documents used to govern the Bear River Compact,” Barnett said. “The compact shapes all of the uses of the water on the Bear River, including the storage.”
The total market value of Box Elder agriculture products sold adds over $134 million to Utah’s economic picture, according to USDA.