The first draft of a federal bill that could have squelched local control over the Central Utah Project was so objectionable that one local official says it brought tears to his eyes.
CUP officials have convinced Rep. Wayne Owens to drop a proposal that might have cut local control, but some haggling on other points may still be ahead when a House subcommittee meets in Salt Lake City April 18.The bill being prepared by Owens, D-Utah, originally contained a provision to create a federal commission that would have had authority over the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, which administers CUP matters locally and collects property taxes for the CUP in the 12 participating Utah counties.
Adding an all-federal bureaucratic layer would have undermined the conservancy district's authority and virtually eliminated the need for the 19-member conservancy district board, said Robert B. Hilbert, board chairman.
Hilbert and Don A. Christiansen, the conservancy district general manager who found the original draft so objectionable, met with Owens three days after receiving the draft and began lobbying for changes in the proposed legislation.
Owens' bill is to be introduced in the House as a substitute to House and Senate bills introduced in October by the entire Utah congressional delegation. The bills already introduced asked Congress to increase the $2.174 billion spending limit for the Colorado River Storage Project by an additional $754 million. The CUP would be the largest single benefactor of a spending ceiling increase.
At the conservancy district's Thursday meeting, several board members expressed displeasure with the way Owens' proposal had been brought to their attention.
"I don't understand how a congressman and his staff could take a position without talking to this board," said board member Nick Sefakis.
Delora Bertelson, another board member, said negotiating legislation without the board's knowledge makes the board look like a rubber stamp.
The Bureau of Reclamation has also been left out of the negotiations.
The plan to form an intermediary commission between Congress and local CUP authority has been changed so it would only oversee environmental mitigation efforts that fish and wildlife groups claim the Bureau of Reclamation has neglected over the years. Environmentalists don't want the bureau in charge of administering environmental mitigation funds, Christiansen said.
The existing bill was to be the subject of a House Water Subcommittee hearing April 18 in Salt Lake City, but the substitute bill will be discussed instead if Owens introduces it in the House before then.
Owens is sensitive to the concerns of environmentalists, Hilbert said, and winning environmentalists' support for finishing the CUP is a major goal of the proposed bill. While most of the $120 million in cuts to the CUP's Bonneville Unit Owens proposes affect environmental aspects of the project, alternatives have been suggested that should persuade environmental groups to support the bill, Hilbert said.
One section of Owens' bill contains a conservancy district plan to help its portion of a $400 million irrigation and drainage system by developing 80 megawatts of commercial power on the proposed Diamond Fork project. A bill passed by the Utah Legislature during its recent session gives the conservancy district authority to issue revenue bonds for such a project.
Owens is a member of the subcommittee that will be holding the Salt Lake hearing. While most of the differences between Owens and the conservancy district have been worked out, some disagreements may still be brought up at the subcommittee hearing. "We tried to inform the congressman of our position and told him if certain things were in the bill, he would hear from us," Hilbert said.
A major concern is the future of the the CUP's Upalco Unit, which has been indefinitely shelved by the Bureau of Reclamation after being on the drawing board 20 years.
The $100 million Upalco Unit would develop about 19,300 acre-feet of irrigation water for use on more than 42,000 acres of Indian and non-Indian land in Duchesne County. It would also provide 3,000 acre-feet of culinary water.
The last time Congress appropriated funds for Upalco Unit construction was 1981, but no work was done on the unit then because of land acquisition problems between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Ute Indian Tribe, which owns land at the site of the proposed Taskeech Reservoir near Roosevelt.