Early Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a nearly $900 million increase in the cost ceiling of the Central Utah Water Project.
The action was the largest step in more than 30 years toward completion of the project, designed to bring Utah's Colorado River water to the communities and farms along the Wasatch Front.The project, originally approved in 1956, has received annual appropriations since then, but, with inflation, had outrun its original cost ceiling.
A groggy trio of Utah lawmakers watched the votes count up to a 211-143 victory for the CUP. Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, announced the vote from the speaker's chair at 12:14 a.m. During more than two hours of late-night debate he was backed by Reps. Jim Hansen and Howard Nielson, both R-Utah. Hansen managed the debate for the Republican minority.
The bill dodged anti-spending sentiment that has grown during the ongoing budget debate. Hansen said after the vote that the timing of the debate for this week was bad, but the fact that it took place when members were preoccupied with a Rules Committee hearing on the budget, and were eager to get home to sleep, helped forestall much of the likely opposition.
In addition to the $680 million estimated cost to complete the project, Owens won approval for an amendment adding $214 million to cover costs of work already completed that the Bureau of Reclamation said had not been covered by earlier authorizations.
Owens told the Deseret News after the vote that he planned to meet Tuesday with Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, to plot strategy for the bill in the Senate. A committee has considered the bill there but not yet cleared it for the floor.
A likely ploy would be to add the CUP bill to a pending omnibus water projects bill.
If that proves impossible - and Senate opponents have vowed to block it because of House-added provisions tightening reclamation law - the CUP bill might have to stand alone, and could see those sections stripped away.
A key to House passage was the support of Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who backed the bill once his reclamation reform was added to it.