Utah irrigators and the Ute Indians favor a proposed Central Utah Project spending increase, but are still waiting to be convinced it's their turn to receive CUP construction funds.
Environmentalists are also showing support for a plan to increase CUP spending because of provisions for increased fish and wildlife mitigation spending as project construction continues.Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, has drafted legislation that would increase the Colorado River Storage Project spending ceiling by $565.4 million. The CUP is the largest CRSP feature still under construction and would be the major beneficiary of a spending ceiling increase.
A House Water and Power Subcommittee hearing conducted Monday in Salt Lake City by subcommittee chairman George Miller, D-Calif, allowed Utahns to comment on the bill, which has yet to be completed or introduced in the House.
The entire Utah congressional delegation was present to voice their support for the bill, although the four Republican members, Reps. Jim Hansen and Howard Nielson, and Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, have singled out several provisions they say they can't accept. Gov. Norm Bangerter, noting the same exceptions, also expressed his support for the bill.
Proposed irrigation features in the Uintah Basin and from Utah County south through the Sevier River basin will be major sticking points to getting the bill through Congress, Owens said. But funds for the irrigation and drainage system will stay in the bill unless a way is found to privately fund the irrigation system.
The idea of privately financing the southern irrigation system of the CUP's Bonneville Unit caught some water users off guard at the Monday hearing. "This morning is the first time I've heard about it," said Thorpe Waddingham, representing irrigators in Millard County. Irrigators in central Utah want to see the irrigation and drainage feature of the CUP developed, but without more information about private financing, they can only support the existing plan for federal financing.
The Upalco Unit, which would have developed Indian and non-Indian water in the Uintah Basin, was shelved but not de-authorized after a report by the Bureau of Reclamation showed the unit's benefits did not justify the cost.
Owens' bill requests $5 million for the rehabilitation of the Farnsworth canal feature of the Upalco Unit and would authorize $2 million to study alternative designs of the Upalco Unit.
"This work (the study and canal rehabilitation) is a prerequisite to development of the additional water storage which is so essential to the economic well-being of both Indian and non-Indian residents of the Uintah Basin," Bangerter said, insisting there must be construction in the proposed Upalco Unit.
Lester M. Chapoose, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe, said the Indians agreed in 1965 to defer development of their water because they were promised CUP water from the Upalco Unit. "The people of the Uintah Basin do not feel like we have been taken under serious consideration," Chapoose said. "In our case it appears the first shall be last," he said, comparing the absence of water development to the tribe's 1861 priority water rights.
Utah Farm Bureau representative Kent Ashby said Uintah Basin and central Utah agriculture water users have been paying CUP taxes for 23 years because they have been promised irrigation water. The farm bureau completely supports the request for an increased authorization, but water users need better assurance their tax dollars won't be in vain, he said.
One of the snags between Owens and the rest of the Utah delegation is Owens' proposal to develop a Central Utah Fish and Wildlife Commission that would administer federal funds earmarked for environmental mitigation projects.
Environmentalists testifying at the hearing said they like the idea of transferring the administration of fish and wildlife funds from the Bureau of Reclamation to an independent commission. They also like Owens' proposal to have the commission continue to oversee fish and wildlife mitigation projects after CUP construction is completed.
But Bangerter said the $15 million that would be taken from CRSP power revenues each year to run the commission after the CUP was finished was "exorbitant" and would consume more than 35 percent of CRSP's annual net revenues.
The Republican congressmen said they were willing to compromise and see the commission formed to oversee fish and wildlife funds during CUP construction, but they said the commission should not have the power of imminent domain and should be disbanded once the project was completed.