Backing for the Central Utah Project has been a mostly unanimous effort by Utah's congressional delegation - whatever its political makeup - for the 32 years since the project began. But that cooperation has run into trouble in recent months, endangering the future of the CUP.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, is pushing a draft measure for CUP funding that has drawn criticism of the four Republican members of the five-man delegation. In addition, the Interior Department this week said the bill is so objectionable that it would recommend a veto if it passed.This split in the Utah ranks threatens the whole project. The rest of Congress is unlikely to pass a Utah measure that the Utah delegation itself can't agree on.
Among the elements of the bill that have drawn fire from one or more of the Utah delegation's GOP members are several involving environmental issues. They include proposals for a Utah County bird refuge, fish and wildlife mitigation projects, and a permanent commission to oversee environmental concerns. There are also proposals for non-federal financing of irrigation and drainage facilities.
Owens says the additions are necessary to get CUP funding through an environmentally-minded Congress. It's true some Democrats from other states have demanded such amendments. But Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, and Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, are adamantly opposed, saying they don't think it can pass if the bill asks public power users to pay for both irrigation and the wildlife provisions. Nielson also opposes the bird refuge.
While Owens has altered some of his proposals in response to objections by his GOP colleagues, differences remain. Those should be worked out as quickly as possible before the CUP runs into approaching deadline problems, as Congress prepares to adjourn at various times for political conventions, vacations, and the election campaign. Failure of the Utah delegation to compromise could kill the bill.
The CUP bill should be kept as streamlined as possible. The project has taken too long and cost too much already. Let's not start adding features that cost more money and cause more confusion.