Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, along with the other two Utah House members, introduced a bill Tuesday to settle water obligations the state and federal government made in 1965 with the Ute Indian Tribe.
At $514 million the proposed cost would rival, if not exceed, the price of finishing the Bonneville Unit of the Central Utah Water Project. But it would be only a quarter of the estimated cost of building the Uintah Project, portions of the Leland Bench irrigation project, the Lower Stillwater Dam and other featuresof the Upalco and Ute Indian projects the Utes were promised in 1965.Nielson told reporters the tribe has been waiting 24 years for some sign thatagreements made in 1965 to defer their water rights to allow construction of theCUP were being honored. Delays in completion of the CUP have made it impossible to start on the Ute projects and "virtually impossible" to meet the 40-year deadline of 2005, Nielson said.
The centerpiece of the bill would be a perpetual $150 million trust fund to be held for the Utes by the secretary of the Interior. Interest from the fund would go to the tribe each year for economic development. It would not be availablefor per-capita payments to tribe members.
The overall measure, while similar to one Nielson proposed in 1988, would cost $50 million more, he said.
Reps. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Wayne Owens, D-Utah, are co-sponsoring the measure, Nielson said. He said Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, will sponsor similar bills in the Senate. Nielson said the bill had the support of the Ute Tribal Council, the county commissioners of Duchesne and Uintah counties, the Uintah Basin Water Users, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District and state and federal officials.
He said he planned to talk to Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan about it, possibly at a planned Tuesday meeting. Interior opposed the bill last year.
The bill would provide $250,000 to repair Cedar View Reservoir, do $7 million in stream improvements on Pole Creek, Rock Creek, Whiterocks, Uinta, Lake Fork and Yellowstone rivers, clean trash from Bottle Hollow Reservoir, build a $3.3 million road from Mountain Home to Ashley National Forest, build wildlife features in Wissiup Bottoms, and spend $30 million on fishery, campground and other facilities in lieu of building Lower Stillwater Dam.
It would authorize $93 million to build Tasheech Dam and $150 million for Whiterocks Dam.
It would allocate $75 million for rehabilitation of the Ute Irrigation Project and $3 million for studies to find alternatives to portions of the projects that would be eliminated under the new agreement with the Utes.