"The deal is done," Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said Friday.
Owens was announcing an agreement to maintain winter flows in the Provo River to protect the brown trout fishery in Provo Canyon while avoiding water shortages in Salt Lake County next summer.The legally non-binding agreement was reached after a 41/2-hour negotiating session Thursday night and was to be signed by 14 parties at noon Friday.
Environmentalists and sportsmen had threatened to sue the federal Bureau of Reclamation if it did not maintain the legally required flow of 100 cubic feet per second in the river to protect the trout. But Owens said that if the bureau had done so, it would have run out of water by about December.
The environmentalists and sportsmen compromised on an 85-cfs flow, and the bureau agreed to take nearly a half million dollars out of its capital improvements budget for the Bonneville Unit of the Central Utah Project to pay top dollar to buy extra water this year.
The bureau and Central Utah Water Conservancy District agreed to pay a premium $50-per-acre-foot price to buy 9,500 acre-feet of irrigation water on the Provo River and in Deer Creek Reservoir to supplement the winter flows.
Salt Lake City and Provo City are each selling about 3,000 acre-feet, and the remainder is coming from a variety of sellers, Owens said.
Clifford I. Barrett, regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation, said the two cities are agreeing to take their reservoir water on a less-than-optimal schedule and many farmers are selling water they would have otherwise used.
"There'll be some farmers who won't farm next year, who decided this will be more profitable to them, or who will farm less," Owens said.
The congressman said he met with representatives of local sportsmen and environmentalists Friday morning and they agreed not to sue. He's also contacting representatives of national environmental groups.
Owens said that besides wanting to resolve the crisis of fish vs. water drinkers, he became involved in negotiations because of his fear that the threatened lawsuit would destroy the united front necessary to win congressional reauthorization of the CUP next year.
"You cannot pass the CUP in Washington without the support of the national environmental community," he said, and those interests had helped write the latest legislative proposal, but would have withdrawn their backing if the trout issue had not been resolved.
"We think that the trout are safe."