A subcommittee of the House Interior Committee opened hearings Thursday morning on reauthorization and expansion of the Central Utah Water Project.
The CUP measure will be incorporated into an omnibus water-projects bill along with additions to the California Central Valley project, reclamation reform and projects in several Western states, acting Chairman William Miller, D-Calif., said at the opening of the session.Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, told the Water, Power and Offshore Energy Subcommittee that he plans to offer an amendment to bring additional benefits to Utah and Wasatch counties. Orton, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, CUP officials and conservationists have been negotiating the changes over four days of intensive discussions. Actual legislation has not yet been drafted, Orton said.
He said he plans to add $27 million to the bill to boost federal assistance to water users in the two counties. There is already $3.5 million in the bill for the water users.
The money would help implement a Wasatch County irrigation system and a sewage treatment plant and set up procedures for water conservation. The agreement, Orton said, would restrict to a two-year lease the diversion of Daniel's Creek water until a way is found to replace that water.
Both Orton and Owens told the Deseret News Wednesday night that they believed all of the contentious points of the measure had been settled. An aide to Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said Orton's amendment was acceptable to Garn.
Orton also sought in the bill to give the state, counties and local jurisdictions more say in the operation of the proposed environmental mitigation commission. He stopped short of calling his plan a veto power for localities, but said he wanted them to be "in the loop" of commission decisions.
Under Orton's changes, farmers near a proposed Utah Lake wildlife preserve would get compensation under liberalized rules if their lands were adversely affected by protection granted the preserve.
A proposed surcharge on federal water supplied to woolgrowers and dairy owners would be limited for those not now involved in a federal acreage limitation, he said.
Owens and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, told the subcommittee that CUP has been under consideration and construction for 35 years, and they expressed hopes that it can be finished this century.
By wrapping CUP into a much larger bill, Miller hopes to put together a coalition of lawmakers strong enough to pass the measure, which died last fall in a welter of regional disagreements.
Owens called CUP a "win-win" proposal for Utah and the nation.
Reclamation Commissioner Dennis Underwood told the subcommittee that the Bush administration now "supports an increase in the authorized appropriations ceiling for the Central Utah Project Completion Act, including construction of an irrigation and drainage system subject to established administration policy regarding water resources development."
Sources told the Deseret News that Garn had wrung those words out of the White House with numerous calls that went on almost until the joint session of Congress Wednesday night. A year ago the administration refused at first to support the irrigation and drainage provisions.