Water and power officials from Colorado Basin states met behind closed doors Wednesday to address the fate of the Central Utah Project and discuss policy questions that may determine the basin's direction for the next half-century.
A compromise CUP bill crafted by Utah's five congressmen contains a provision that could pave the way for all of the Upper Basin states to complete portions of the plan that lawmakers contemplated a generation ago but which Congress has not funded - and might never fund.That compromise would provide $1.4 billion to finish Upper Basin work while scrapping projects that have too few benefits to justify their costs.
To pay for those projects, Utah and the other states would sell bonds, using revenues from Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge and other hydro power dams to pay off the principal and interest, thus taking financing away from the federal government. Utah would get $315 million or more for the Bonneville Unit. Colorado would get $640 million to build Animas La Plata and perhaps other projects. Wyoming would be entitled to about $217 million, with New Mexico receiving some $238 million under benefit ratios adopted in 1956.
It is possible that failure to get a CUP bill now would mean that Bonneville Unit construction would be halted, resulting in an incredibly expensive Salt Lake municipal water system. Without the irrigation portion to which much of the cost could be allocated, those expenses, by law, would have to be amortized by Wasatch Front consumers at rates of from $350 to $400 or even more for a family of four for a year - far more than the $60 such a family paid before 1985.
Power costs in the Upper Basin would rise about 10 mills, approximately double the current very low price of hydro power from the dams that were once called "the cash registers of the Colorado."
Public power customers - only Murray in the Salt Lake area gets public power now - would see a modest rate rise as Colorado River Storage Project power was blended with other public power sources.
Those increases, however, would be capped at a definite figure, one far below what power users would have paid if the entire Upper Basin project and all of its planned participating projects had been built.
Will the cost be worth it? That is what the basin's water and power officials must decide, and soon. Rep. Morris K. Udall, D-Ariz., has set an Aug. 10 deadline for an agreement in time for his House Interior Committee to act this year. Even an agreement this week will leave precious few weeks for both houses of Congress to act on a complex and controversial bill.
The money to build their water projects is the carrot. Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, has promised to provide a stick by blocking bills dear to the hearts of many Upper Basin legislators if they drag their feet on this.
If the Colorado compromise does not succeed, and the Central Utah Project is not re-authorized at a higher figure, the project will run out of money in about a year and a half. The Utahns have thought about putting in a simple one-year ceiling increase of $120 million to $180 million to carry CUP through 1990, but without some agreement on paying for it, even such a stop-gap might not make it through Congress this year.
Getting a bill passed in 1989 is doubtful. Every year the budget deficit grows more top-heavy and anti-project feeling stronger. Garn does not want to fight the battle next year against longer and longer odds.
Reps. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, and Wayne Owens, D-Utah, have hammered out a bill they might not be able to agree upon in 1989. Failure to agree now might endanger their election prospects before November.
The Upper Basin's officials will have to agree on a solution, and not deciding this week could doom CUP. Those are the stakes that will be under consideration behind closed doors in Salt Lake City Wednesday.