A decaying political alliance in the West could seriously affect Western growth and development in future years by squelching chances for needed water development, a federal official believes.
James Ziglar, assistant Interior secretary in the outgoing Reagan administration, also believes non-traditional methods being pursued to finance unfinished portions of the Central Utah Project could have ramifications affecting irrigators and public power users outside the state.Sparsely populated Western states have been able to build federally sponsored water projects because of a unified front of congressional delegations and political factors in Congress, he said. "That unified front is breaking down, in my view. As it further breaks down it is going to mean we have less and less opportunity to realize development potential."
Ziglar agrees there is a perception that construction of major water projects in the West will soon be a thing of the past.
"But water resource development is not over," he said in an interview with the Deseret News. "It is going to be needed more and more in the West - particularly if the predictions about climate changes occur."
The most convenient sources of water have largely been developed, meaning the different players in water development are going to have to be more creative and "realize there are some serious assaults on this program that are coming from other parts of the country and other interest groups."
Increasing opposition to new water development proposals will be a catalyst to renew a sense of unity in the West, he said. Environmental issues will also play a major role in water development issues. "I encourage that kind of environmental input. I think it's important. I think it's also important that there be a balanced approach to both sides -development and environmental interests."
Speaking of Utah's water politics, Ziglar said he is troubled by the debate on methods to increase the federal spending ceiling to see the Central Utah Project finished.
"Not because of the Central Utah Project specifically, but because of the overall impact of the precedent that would be set for water development and financing in the West."
Members of Utah's congressional delegation are pursuing non-traditional financing methods that would shift more CUP repayment costs to irrigators and public power users. A bill that would have facilitated non-federal financing of portions of the CUP failed to emerge during the past congressional session and will be reintroduced by delegation members in January.
Without saying non-traditional financing is good or bad, Ziglar said he is concerned because the debate over non-traditional financing techniques started with an individual project.
"If we're going to change the whole concept of the reclamation program it should be an overall policy debate, not just with one project," he said. "I hope (Utah's) delegation will understand that is what's happening."
Ziglar and other Interior Department officials announced Oct. 1, 1987, that the Bureau of Reclamation would be shifting its emphasis from construction to water resource management. That change is still taking place and the bureau will continue to be the focal point of major water development efforts, even if it is not playing a construction role, Ziglar said. "The Bureau of Reclamation may not have the same degree of leverage," he said, but it will be a principal focus and will provide creative advice and expertise. "They're working very hard to maintain that expertise."
Changes in the bureau have been hard on morale in Washington, D.C., as the bureau's head office has been scaled down and the field office in Denver bolstered. "We've had some morale problems there, but they're all offset rather dramatically by the increased morale out in the field."
Some of the changes have enabled the bureau to cut its overhead by $7.5 million, Ziglar said, and the bureau has received funding for new studies that will develop new water management techniques.