Congressional passage of a bill to provide $750 million to complete the Central Utah Project could come by the end of March, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said Wednesday.

In a meeting with the Central Utah Water Conservancy District's board of directors, Owens said he expects smooth sailing for the bill which is an exact duplicate of the bill that just narrowly missed passing in the waning hours before the 101st Congress adjourned for the year in December.Owens said he met with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., last week in preparation for this year's effort. Miller, thought to be the key backer needed for House passage, assured his support for the bill as long as water reclamation reform is included with the package.

On the Senate side, Owens said Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, met with Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., last week to get the ball rolling there. Bradley has traditionally opposed western water bills but has thrown his support behind the CUP legislation. The Bush administration has also indicated support for the bill, effectively removing all opposition.

The bill was formally introduced in the House last week and should be introduced in the Senate this coming week, Owens said. House committee hearings for the bill are tentatively set to begin March 1. Barring any major tinkering with the bill, Owens said he expects the bill to be fast-tracked and passed by the end of March.

Newly elected third district representative Bill Orton, D-Utah, has expressed some minor concerns, however, Owens said. Orton has not had time to fully review the bill and Owens said he plans to meet with Orton to review any possible amendments the new congressman may suggest.

Orton's concerns evidently involve provisions that could affect water users in Wasatch County. Wasatch officials recently met with the district board to express concern that they feel irrigation supplies could be seriously affected by provisions requiring additional water to be purchased for use in assuring stream flows in the Provo River below Wasatch County. Those provisions were needed to get support for the compromise bill from environmental groups.

"I don't think there will be any major changes in the bill as it is written," Owens said. "I will meet with Orton and work with him to get his concerns resolved.

"I think we can have this bill passed by the end of March," Owens said.