Utahns have a right to be upset with the White House for its belated sniping at the long-delayed, much-needed Central Utah Project.

But raw anger is seldom, if ever, productive. Instead, what's needed now is a fresh effort to educate President Bush and some of his top advisers as diplomatically but expeditiously as possible on the rationale for this water development project - and on the need for some compromising on their part.Already, there has been plenty of compromising on the part of water districts, environmentalists and congressional critics in an effort to provide enough funds to bring the CUP to at least the verge of completion.

But all that isn't good enough for the administration's Office of Management and Budget, which erected some new stumbling blocks this week in addition to those previously raised by the General Accounting Office.

Among other objections, the latest critics insist that the compromise CUP bill reflects incomplete planning, too little federal authority over the project, too much environmental mitigation unrelated to the construction provided in the bill, and an insufficient financial return on the irrigation and drainage portion of the project.

While politics has been defined as the art of compromise, the politics of the CUP have become ridiculous. There's no way to satisfy all of the competing, often conflicting demands on the project. As Utah Sen. Jake Garn points out, no other federal water projects have been subjected to the same kind of cost analysis being imposed on the CUP by the GAO. Likewise, when someone as friendly to the administration as Garn accuses it of changing the rules in the middle of the game, the White House ought to pay particularly close attention.

Because of previous carping and foot-dragging, the CUP is already more than 20 years behind schedule. If there is anything the project does not need, it is still more delay brought on by belated second-guesses.

Further delays would do a serious injustice by depriving Utah of water that is legally ours and stunting the growth of the second most arid state in the nation while shunting more development to parts of the country that are overcrowded.

Can't Washington stop spinning its wheels and get on with the long-overdue job of finishing the Central Utah Project?