As Congress adjourned, the Central Utah Project, already 20 years behind schedule, fell by the wayside in the final minutes. This is a serious blow in a long history of tragic starts and stops for the CUP.

There is no excuse for Congress repeatedly delaying or slowing a vital project for decades and in the process making it far more expensive than it ever should have been.The failure of the legislation is bitter because of the fact that there were no objections to the CUP itself. An acceptable bill had been hammered out and nearly everyone approved. But the CUP was done in by political maneuvering that had little to do with the project as such.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who heads the House Water, Power and Offshore Energy Resources Subcommittee, wanted to use the CUP measure to carry an amendment that would limit federal water going to large farms - a pet issue of his.

When Sen. Pete Wilson, R-Calif., refused to allow Miller to add language sharply restricting the number of acres a farm could irrigate with water from federal projects, that eliminated Miller's support and killed the bill.

The CUP legislation carried $894 million for the project as it passed the House, $679 million for the balance of construction, environmental work and the Ute Indian Tribe, plus $214 million to cover work already done above the authority Congress had previously voted.

The failure to pass a completion bill will leave a large package of environmental projects as well as irrigation features within CUP unfunded.

Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, immediately announced plans to reintroduce a similar bill on the first day of the 102nd Congress when it meets in January. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was optimistic that passage would occur sometime next year.

It is encouraging that Utah water officials believe that the bill's failure will have little immediate effect. There is, they say, enough money already available to finish the Jordanelle Dam and part of the municipal and industrial water delivery system.

Nevertherless, it is discouraging to see foot dragging and petty politics continue to surround the CUP. No other federal water project has been subjected to the restrictions continually imposed on the CUP.

The only hope now is that Utah's congressional delegation can remain unified on this issue and muster the political support necessary in the next Congress. Otherwise, Utah, the second most arid state in the nation, will be deprived of the water it desperately needs.