Bear River diversion dams

Meeting fish needs, easing ranch work

About the Project

The Bear River begins in the Uinta Mountains of Utah, winding through parts Southwest Wyoming and Southeast Idaho, before draining into the Great Salt Lake. The headwaters are an important high-elevation source of cold, clean water to create a climate change refugia for Bonneville cutthroat trout. But access to this refugia is blocked by a series of diversion dams that irrigate hay and pasture lands.

The Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI) formed in 2006 as a collaborative of public and private entities working to conserve native trout across the West. In coordination with the interagency Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team and western state agency biologists, WNTI has initiated a multi-phase project that will remove at least 21 in-stream barriers on the river, restore habitat connectivity, improve water quality, and enhance the river’s resilience to a changing climate.

The Bear River diversion removal effort is an example of collaboration across state lines and between ranching and fisheries interests. WNTI and its partners are creating a regional model for improving irrigation systems while providing benefits for fish. For several landowners, the irrigation upgrades have actually reduced the cost and workload associated with water diversions.

To date, multiple push-up dams and other diversion structures and barriers have been replaced with fish-friendly infrastructure that facilitates the diversion of irrigation water at key times, benefitting the river and the people and fish that depend on it.

Owner: Private landowners
Size: Over 21 dams of varying types and sizes, including a 5-foot tall, full-span concrete dam, three culverts, and over 17 earthen or rock pushup dams
Project Cost: $5.1 million
ORF Investment: Project management, design, construction, and post-removal monitoring
Miles Opened: 144 miles
Fish: Bonneville cutthroat trout
Status: 11 dams removed by 2022; 10 dams scheduled for removal between 2023-2025

  • Open 144 miles of fish passage for Bonneville cutthroat trout
  • Restore 190 acres of riparian habitat
  • Improve water use efficiency and reduce costs of operating and maintaining diversions through installation of new structures


  • Prevent riverbank erosion and improve water quality by decreasing the river’s sediment load
  • Demonstrate to landowners that modern diversion structures benefit fish and farming
  • Build greater trust among landowners, Trout Unlimited, and state wildlife agencies seeking to restore fish populations
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Project Partners

Western Native Trout Initiative

Utah Department of Natural Resources

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Utah Department of Environmental Quality

Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Idaho Department of Environmental Quality

Town of Bear River, Wyoming

City of Evanston, Wyoming

Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative

Uinta Conservation District/National Association of Conservation Districts

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Forest Service

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service

Trout Unlimited

PacifiCorp EEC


Private canal companies