Bear River dam builder denied water right

BOISE — The director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources today denied a proposed water right that would have facilitated construction of a new dam at Oneida Narrows on the Bear River.

The final order issued by IDWR Director Gary Spackman found that the application for a 17,300-acre-foot water right was not in the local public interest. The water right — sought by Twin Lakes Canal Co. — would have been used to store irrigation water behind the new dam and to generate hydropower. IRU intervened in the case to fight the water right.

“On balance, the director determines that the benefits from hydropower generation and a relatively small addition of 5,000 acre feet of storage for occasional irrigation use do not justify the permanent inundation of the Bear River Narrows, given the unique recreational and wildlife values of the Bear River Narrows,” Spackman wrote in his 52-page order.

The final order upheld a July 26 Preliminary Order by an IDWR hearing officer. The only recourse remaining for Twin Lakes would be to appeal to district court.

IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis said Spackman’s order is a “significant step” toward protecting the river’s fish, wildlife and recreational resources.

“Since 2002, when parties came together to sign a major settlement agreement for other hydro projects on the Bear, millions of dollars have been spent restoring the river,” Lewis said. “This order helps guarantee these restoration efforts will continue into the future. For many reasons, we knew from the start that the Twin Lakes proposal was a bad one. IDWR’s director agreed with us.” 

In arguments at a formal hearing in March 2012, IRU, PacifiCorp, Trout Unlimited, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Franklin County Fish and Game Association and other concerned parties argued that the proposed water right does not meet the local public interest and would undermine the 2002 settlement agreement on the operation of existing Bear River dams and hydro facilities.

The 2002 settlement followed three years of negotiations and marked agreement among varying parties for the future operations of PacifiCorp’s Bear River Hydropower Complex, which consisted of four dams, reservoirs and hydro generation plants. One dam was removed as a result of the settlement.

“The settlement set the stage for improving water quality, wildlife habitat and recreation and fishing opportunities — and serves as an example for negotiations in other parts of Idaho,” Lewis said. “Twin Lakes Canal Co.’s application for a water right to build a big new dam is a step backward for a river where people of diverse interests came together to settle their differences and find common ground 10 years ago.”