Scenic, much-loved Idaho canyon spared from another dam

Idaho Water Board probably ends 10 year battle over Oneida Narrows dam-

Oneida Narrows is a scenic canyon on the Bear River in SE Idaho.  It is already partially filled with a dam and reservoir, but its lower reaches are free, popular for recreation, and has a population of rare Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.

Over its odd course through three states to the Great Salt Lake, the Bear River has many dams and has suffered much abuse.  Conservation groups have been battling an application for a 108-foot high dam by the Twin Lakes Canal Company for a long time.  The dam would flood the rest of the Narrows.

Autumn on the Bear River. Oneida Narrows. Copyright Ralph Maughan

The Idaho Water Board has saved the day for those opposed to the dam.  The Idaho Department of Water Resources just denied a water right sought by the Canal Company. The hearing officer for the Department ruled that public interest in keeping this part of the Bear River in its current condition was far more important than public interest in building another dam and its associated facilities.

The dam would have produced 10 megawatts of electricity . . . not much, compared to a new coal-fired or nuclear plant that typically produces 500 megawatts at a minimum. It would have also fed water to 3 small reservoirs of the canal company. They are used for irrigation.

As well as strong opposition from conservationists such as the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Idaho Rivers United, PacifiCorp Energy opposed the water right because it would likely have reopened the relicensing of three long existing hydro dams it has on the Bear River.  The relicensing of these dams had been very complicated, took a long time, and resulted in  a lot of change and concessions to conservation.  PacifCorp has spent a large amount of money on conservation measures since the relicensing. Not many people wanted to reopen that process.

Licenses on public waterways are usually 50 years in length. So this decision will probably settle the matter of additional dams for at least 40 years.

The Bear River rises in the high Uinta Mountains of NE Utah. It runs almost due north into Wyoming before making an abrupt turn west at the Idaho border at Border, Wyoming.  From there is flows west to just past Soda Springs, Idaho where it then turns south to go through the rest of SE Idaho (and the Narrows) into Utah’s Cache Valley, and then slightly SW to end in the Great Salt Lake.  It flows many miles for such a short distance “as the crow flies.”  It is a rare major Great Basin river. Being completely landlocked, the river originally, and still has, a number of somewhat unique species such as the Bonneville cutthroat trout.

The Bear River in Oneida Narrows. It is far from being a big river. Copyright Ralph Maughan




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Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan