A letter by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, has Central Utah Project officials complaining the congressman is leaving them out of important communications that could affect the future of the project.
Owens sent a letter Tuesday to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner C. Dale Duvall asking him to examine the CUP and report whether there should be changes in portions of the project yet unbuilt - mainly an irrigation system that would carry water to Sevier, Millard, Sanpete, Juab, Piute and Garfield counties."The letter has some very serious implications in where the project is and where it is headed," Central Utah Water Conservancy District General Manager Don A. Christiansen reported to the district's 19-member board Thursday. Christiansen and the board members saw the letter for the first time Thursday - two days after the congressman's office released it, by request, to both Salt Lake City newspapers.
"I have had no contact, I have no idea as to what congressman Owens is aiming at, what are his motives, what his direction may be," Christiansen said.
Owens left Washington for a tour of the Middle East shortly after he signed the letter he sent to Duvall and has been unavailable to comment on the letter.
CUP officials are gearing up for the coming congressional session in Washington, where they hope a bill that would raise the spending limit for the $2 billion water project will fare better than it did during the past session.
Owens asked Duvall to respond quickly to his questions about whether modifications should be made so he could know what steps to take in pursuing additional money for the project beginning in January.
"Did the congressman make any effort to contact any members of district?" asked board member Nick Sefakis. "How can he take it upon himself to say what our needs are when in fact it's this board's responsibility to determine the project's future."
Christiansen said the current atmosphere in Congress will make it very difficult to win additional federal dollars to build the irrigation system. He said he has been working for months with public power officials trying to work out a financing plan for the irrigation system that will not require money from the federal treasury.
The bill by Owens and Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, that was introduced last year did not include money for the irrigation system. Some board members believe Owens' request for an audit of CUP components is a preface to his trying to cut the irrigation portion of the CUP out altogether.
"We're out on a limb and Owens has out his ax," said board member David Wilson.
The board plans to send a letter to each member of Utah's congressional delegation asking them to inform the district whenever they plan to take actions that would affect the direction of the project.
Meantime, work has started to assemble the information Owens asked for. Kirt Carpenter, bureau project manager in Provo, said he has already been instructed to prepare a report for Duvall.
Carpenter said the report will indicate the state needs the CUP finished essentially the way the entire Bonneville Unit is designed.
The irrigation portions of the unit are less cost effective than components that will deliver municipal water and that require a greater repayment by local water users to the federal treasury. Carpenter said federal irrigation projects play a major role in the West's economy but have never been profitable to the federal government.
"There are some who believe we shouldn't develop any more irrigation water," he said.
The conservancy district board also took steps Thursday to form a sub-committee that will be charged with watching issues surrounding the construction of the irrigation features of the Bonneville Unit.