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Bear River

Bear River: Last Chance to Change Course

Craig Denton
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    Bear River
    Book Description:

    Craig Denton notes, "Water will be the primary political, social, and economic issue in the Intermountain West in the twenty-first century." Urban Utah thirsts for the Great Salt Lake principal source, the Bear River. Plans abound to divert it for a rapidly growing Wasatch Front, as the last good option for future water. But is it? Who now uses the river and how? Who are its stakeholders? What does the Bear mean to them? What is left for further use? How do we measure the Bear's own interest, give it a voice in decisions? Craig Denton's documentary takes on these questions. He tells the story of the river and the people, of many sorts, with diverse purposes, who live and depend on it. Bear River begins in alpine snowfields, lakes, and creeks in the Uinta Mountains, flows north through Wyoming, loops south in Idaho, and enters the inland sea by way of the an environmentally critical bird refuge. Along the way it has many uses: habitat, farms, electricity, recreation, lawns and homes. Denton researches the natural and human history of the river, photographed it, interviewed many stakeholders, and tried to capture the river perspective. His photographs, printed as crisp duotones, carry us downstream, ultimately to big questions, begging to be answered soon, about what we should and can make of the Bear River. Denton writes, Gravity my engine, Water my soul. I am the teller of life and deep time. You would measure me. Sever me. Own me. In your name. Let me flow In your imagination That I may speak.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-664-6
    Subjects: General Science, Geography

Table of Contents

  1. Chapter 1 Defining the River
    (pp. 3-7)

    Itʹs hard to get hold of a river. It invites the touch, but itʹs difficult to grasp, an elusive thing that exists as much in the imagination as on the ground.

    Most times, a river knows its place, sticking to hollows it carves for itself in the earth. In high times, though, it wanders where it wants, with blind momentum and its own cadence.

    A riverʹs personality changes from day to day, sometimes shyly, sometimes with braggadocio. Some seasons, a river can be secretive and timid with a flow that struggles to cover its bed, eventually drying up on sun-baked...

  2. Chapter 2 The Ancient Saga of Water and Land: Geomorphology and Hydrology of the Bear
    (pp. 11-43)

    Like all rivers, the Bear begins in the sky. A molecule of water hovers in a gathering storm, anxiously suspended until the cloud no longer can support its weight. It falls and begins the earthly leg of its hydrologic journey.

    If the land where that raindrop fell were a flat plain, its course in that river would be complex and full of promise. The hydrologist Luna Leopold showed that if you take random walks in any direction in a 180-degree arc, all paths eventually come together. River channels can form that same way, haphazardly on level ground. But when rain...

  3. Chapter 3 From Alpine to Desert: The Changing Ecology of the Bear River Basin
    (pp. 47-65)

    As the Bear River Basin scribes its great, five-hundred-mile long looping arc, it passes through a stunning spread of vegetative zones. From alpine to desert the Bear is a major character in natureʹs ecological narrative. It remains a story with a biologically diverse cast, but authorship changes from the singular voice of nature to collaboration with human beings.

    The habitats of the Bear River Basin are in flux. Recent geologic history is playing a slowly evolving role, especially in the aquatic habitats of the lower riverine system and its streamside communities. Human interventions are accelerating changes in the Bear Riverʹs...

  4. Chapter 4 The Bear River and the Threads of Western American History
    (pp. 69-107)

    Many of the great themes of western American history were stitched together on the banks of the Bear River. Native Americans and Anglos antagonized each other, and those abrasions erupted into some of a tense nationʹs most horrific, soul-searching moments. European mercantilism and colonialism squared off against an emerging, entrepreneurial spirit some were beginning to call ʺAmerican.ʺ Financiers salivated over untold natural resources and sought to bring them to burgeoning cities in the East. Developers promoted western expansion and the benefits of land and climate in pamphlets that were sometimes quaint and other times flat-out wrong. Settlers and vagabonds never...

  5. Chapter 5 Stakeholders Lay Claim to the Bear River and Its Water
    (pp. 111-153)

    Water wars are legendary in the Intermountain West, the stakes aggravated by relatively scant rainfall. Surface water is the prize, and conflicts rage over springs, creeks, and rivers, the conduits of Earthʹs precious lifeblood. The struggle for ownership of the Bear Riverʹs water has been no different. But while battles in some parts of the West rose to the level of bloodshed, the conflict for water rights on the Bear has been marked more by compromise—and ironclad decree.

    Essentially one interest controls Bear River water: irrigation. Its rights trump all others, including the second dominant player, the power generator...

  6. Chapter 6 Damn the Dams: Conflicts Roil the Bear River
    (pp. 157-197)

    The air was oddly electric for a Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District (JVWCD) meeting in West Jordan, Utah. The board of trustees of the largest water wholesaler in booming southern Salt Lake County was convening in June 2000 to approve the budget—a prosaic subject that normally would attract only a cub reporter for a weekly newspaper—but everyone in the room knew that damming the Bear River was going to be the real topic of conversation. The Utah Rivers Council (URC) was bringing a busload of river activists to protest the dams, and northern Utah ranchers had arrived early...

  7. Chapter 7 Mitigation on the Bear: Repairing a Century of Misuse
    (pp. 201-213)

    Sometimes itʹs hard to believe there has been any mitigation of damage caused by human activity on the Bear River. Nevertheless, concerned citizens from the environmental community, government, and the private sector are working on improving water quality and habitat. Itʹs just that, measured against a century of thoughtless degradation, this tender awakening of public responsibility is in its infancy. Nancy Mesner, Assistant Professor in the Department of Aquatic, Watershed and Earth Resources and Utah State Universityʹs water quality extension specialist, points out that there are only twenty years of data measurement.

    ʺCases are being made now that we are...

  8. Chapter 8 A Stark Future for the Bear River—and Us
    (pp. 217-235)

    The facts are stark, and the disconnect is obvious. Utah is the second-driest state in the nation, yet it is also the second highest in per-capita water use. That profligate use of water in a desert environment is stultifying. The message it sends is foreboding.

    According to a March 2005 study by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah, residents of Salt Lake County consume 288 gallons of water a day, 18 percent more than the average 243 gallons in the Intermountain West. Logan consumes a whopping 370 gallons per person. Citizens of Idaho and...