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What is the economic impact of the Bear River?

A canal in North Logan, Utah
Anna Johnson
The Bear River Watershed feeds into many canals like this one in North Logan, Utah.

Many Utahns are focused on the health of Great Salt Lake, but the Cache Water District is focusing on water management upstream in the Bear River. They are funding a project to understand the economic benefits of the Bear River.

“What does that river provide in economic benefits as it passes through a little bit of Wyoming, Utah, four counties in Idaho?” Nathan Daugs said.

Daugs is the manager of the Cache Water District. He says existing water studies don’t focus enough attention on agricultural water use and its importance to Cache and Box Elder Counties’ economies.

“We have a huge ag sector in the county, both counties. And if you just take all that water away from agriculture, agriculture dies, all those businesses that are built around agriculture dying, and you crush your crushing economy,” he said.

Daugs said that more water can be diverted to Great Salt Lake by focusing on conserving water upstream. “Maybe there's some things we can help upstream, if we spend money there, it'll actually mean more water gets to the lake.”

Through the Bear River Development Act, Cache County has an allocation of 60,000 acre-feet of water for development. Daugs says the existing Bear River Development Act prioritizes municipal and industrial water use, or M and I, while underestimating population growth and agricultural water use, making it seem like Cache Valley has enough water when, in reality, the valley is very dry.

“If we look at just human needs, which is what that study really looks at, right? The state looks at M and I, is there enough water for them? And, yeah, we've got enough for that, if we don't consider all the other things — agriculture and the environment. We think those should be included in the allocation of what water needs to be used,” Daugs said.

The Cache Water District has put out a request for proposal for its study on the Bear River and is hoping to finalize the study next year, before the 2024 legislative session so state legislators can reference it.

Anna grew up begging her mom to play music instead of public radio over the car stereo on the way to school. Now, she loves radio and the power of storytelling through sound. While she is happy to report on anything from dance concerts to laughter practice, her main focus at UPR is political reporting. She is studying Journalism and Political Science at Utah State University and wants to work in political communication after she graduates. In her free time, she spends time with her rescue dog Quigley and enjoys rock climbing.