Controversy over power development on the Central Utah Project's Diamond Fork project has become a major issue in a CUP funding request to be discussed at a House Water and Power Subcommittee hearing May 5.
Utah's congressional delegation is scrambling to find financing alternatives for Diamond Fork and the CUP's $450 million irrigation system just in case Congress doesn't go along with a plan to increase the spending ceiling for the Colorado River Storage Project enough to cover the features.Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, requested an analysis of alternative financing methods from the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, the CUP's local sponsor. Whether a detailed plan will be available by Thursday's hearing is uncertain.
"We're working hard, but today I would have to say we're going to be very lucky to have that put together in time for the May 5 hearing," Don Christiansen, conservancy district general manager, said Friday. "Time is extremely short."
The conservancy district greased the skids for locally financing the irrigation and power feature by promoting the passage of SB85 during the January session of the Utah Legislature. The bill allows the district to issue revenue bonds to build Diamond Fork.
Questions about who would market Diamond Fork power have drawn the ire of public power officials who market power from other federal CRSP power plants. Enough speculation has arisen about whether the power could be privately marketed that Intermountain Consumer Power Association General Manager Carolyn S. McNeil testified at an April 18 subcommittee hearing in Salt Lake City there would be "holy war" if the idea is pursued.
Traditionally, power from federal dams subsidizes the cost of federal irrigation water development projects. Diamond Fork was conceived with that in mind.
Letting the conservancy district market the power to help repay the costs of the irrigation system outside the federal power structure would violate reclamation power marketing law established in 1906 and would draw fire from public power officials both inside and outside the CRSP area, said Alene Bentley, ICPA public relations manager.
Bentley said Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, did not consult public power interests when considering a plan to privately market Diamond Fork power.
A comment Owens made at the April subcommittee hearing led some to believe he already had a plan to privately finance both construction and power marketing for Diamond Fork. But the idea was conceptual, at best, said Matthew Durham, a staff aide.
"It may very well be that he (Owens) is catching a lot of flack for nothing," Durham said. "It's possible there will be a plan by the hearing, but there's no way of telling you for sure."
Owens, a member of the subcommittee, has also proposed the formation of a fish and wildlife commission that would oversee the implementation of environmental mitigation projects. Environmental groups have complained over the years that the Bureau of Reclamation has deferred mitigation projects in favor of construction. The commission would assume control over fish and wildlife projects, a plan favored by environmentalists.