Water Weekly for October 3rd

“What we’re seeing here on the Bear is indicative of the Colorado,” Joel Ferry, the director of Utah’s Department of Natural Resources since his appointment in June, told a group of journalists as we gazed north from Antelope Island, ringed by the dry lake bed of the Great Salt Lake. The Great Salt Lake and the Colorado River are suffering from the same affliction: a 20-year drought that is the driest period in the region for 1200 years. But Ferry is referring to both the challenges, and the solutions. “I’m very optimistic,” he said, “as long as we get some snow.” 

Joel Ferry, Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, addresses a group of journalists on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, with the Wasatch Front behind him.

On Antelope Island, we also heard from Casey Snider, water outreach specialist for Ducks Unlimited and Utah state representative. He told us, “From here you can see everything that’s wrong with the Great Salt Lake. But also everything that could go right.” Policy changes in Utah’s last legislation session, many of which he credited to Ferry’s leadership, have set the basin up for overdue action on the crisis, he said. That includes new opportunities for water banking, in-stream flow leasing, plus grant incentives to get municipalities to meter residential irrigation water. “It’s time to get creative,” Snider said, “We can see everyone, rather than as adversaries, as potential partners.”

Casey Snider, Utah state representative and Ducks Unlimited water outreach specialist.

I’m on a reporting tour of the Bear River watershed with 15 other journalists, put on by the Intermountain West Joint Venture. The Bear River is the Great Salt Lake’s largest tributary. Tomorrow we will head north from Ogden to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge at the mouth of the Bear to hear from public, private and tribal land managers who are, presumably, the ones that Snider expects to get creative. That includes Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust director Matt Lucia, who joined us for dinner tonight too, where he mentioned an amazing trip he’d just finished 10 days ago: a 300+ mile float down the Bear River. He’s releasing a vlog about it in the coming months, but you can get a flavor for the accomplishment, and the reasons behind it, in this beautiful trailer.

1. From Wilderness to Refuge: A Journey Down the Bear River

Stay tuned for more stories about what’s happening here, and its implications for the rest of the West, in the coming weeks. 

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Louis Wertz is editor-in-chief of On Land and communications director at the Western Landowners Alliance. He lives in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, with his wife and two young children.