Wasatch County officials are organizing efforts to prevent the Central Utah Project from purchasing another 25,000 acre-feet of water in the Provo River drainage.
Officials fear the CUP effort could spell economic and environmental disaster in the Heber Valley area, which depends heavily on agriculture for its economic stability.Provisions in a bill now pending in Congress authorize the CUP to purchase water shares and to hold them for use in maintaining late season stream flows in the lower Provo River. Originally the bill's wording targeted the drainage area above Deer Creek Reservoir. Wasatch officials went to Washington, D.C., two weeks ago to seek removal of the purchase authorization.
While the wording was not removed, it was changed to allow purchases to occur in areas below Deer Creek as well.
Wasatch County Commissioner Moroni Besendorfer, who is leading the opposition, said the valley still feels extremely vulnerable. A meeting is scheduled Tuesday with canal company officials and individual water owners to map out strategies that would protect Wasatch water shares.
"We have a lot of absentee land owners up here and we are afraid they won't care," Besendorfer said. "The people economically bound (farmers, etc.) up here face destruction."
"We are opposed to this bill and we will continue to oppose it until we get a bill that helps our people, not destroys them."
Besendorfer said that if the CUP is successful in purchasing the desired water, the entire central portion of the Heber Valley would virtually dry up, notwithstanding a 12,000-acre allocation assigned to Wasatch County in the new Jordanelle Dam, which is now under construction.
"That water was seen as a way to bring land that is currently dry back into production," Besendorfer said. "If we lose the other water, they might as well take the 12,000 acre-feet also."
Besendorfer said the CUP already owns a sufficient amount of water to assure the needed Provo River streamflows. "We feel our environment is just as important as theirs."
The commissioner declined to elaborate on the specifics of the opposition plan.
"We've still got a lot to discuss and work out at this point," Besendorfer said.