Idaho denies water rights for Bear River dam

The Idaho Department of Water Resources denied a water right that would have allowed a new dam at Oneida Narrows on the Bear River in eastern Idaho.

The Bear River Narrows Hydroelectric Project proposed by Twin Lakes Canal Co., needed a water right to build dam that was opposed by industry and environmental groups alike.

PacifiCorp is the most powerful opponent of this $45 million hydroelectric dam project. That’s because in 2003 it signed a settlement to create a restoration program that covers a large portion of the Bear River watershed in Idaho. It has spent millions of dollars improve water quality, restore Bonneville cutthroat trout and improve recreational opportunities on the Bear River.

Construction of Twin Falls’ project would have ended the settlement, and forced the re-opening PacifiCorp’s own hydroelectric dam license. And it might have forced the listing of the Bonneville cutthroat.

Idaho Department of Water Resources hearing officer James Cefalo denied the application by Twin Lakes Canal Co. for a 17,300-acre-foot water right July 26. The water right would have been used to store irrigation water behind the new dam and to generate hydropower.

“The public interests associated with the Bear River in its current state far outweigh the public interests associated with the proposed project,” Cefalo wrote.

Idaho Rivers United, opposed the project along with Trout Unlimited and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Its conservation director Kevin Lewis said the preliminary order is a “significant step” toward protecting the fish, wildlife and recreational resources of the Bear River Narrows.

“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.”