When the Central Utah Water Project Completion bill is taken up in Congress, it is expected to carry a provision allowing the Uintah Water Conservancy District to re-negotiate its repayment contract on the Red Fleet Reservoir at a savings of more than $43 million.
During the oil shale-tar sands boom of the 1970s, Red Fleet was built to provide 18,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water to Vernal and other communities and Chevron Oil Co.When the boom went bust, the population growth did not materialize, and the district had no use for the water and no way to make the $1.09 million annual payments.
David Rasmussen, of the Uintah Water Conservancy District, told the Deseret News Thursday that the district renegotiated the contract in 1989, cutting the repayment to $226,585 per year for 2,000 acre feet of water.
"And we are not sure we can use that much," Rasmussen added.
The language in the CUP bill, expected to reach the House next week, would ratify the agreement.
It would transfer title to 16,000 acre feet of water back to the federal government, which could market it if it found a buyer. The Uintah District would retain the right of first refusal on that water. Another 4,000 acre feet would be set aside for conservation and recreation.
Rasmussen said the district has already made three of the lower payments in 1989, 1990 and 1991.
"If we were to have to go back and make the million-dollar payments, well we couldn't do it. I guess, " Rasmussen added, "We'd have to tell the federal government to come get its reservoir."
A bill to ratify the agreement failed in 1990. "It didn't even get out of the committee," Rasmussen said.
Members of the Utah Congressional delegation were not talking much about the Red Fleet project this week, but Rasmussen said he thought the district had a valid case for relief.