The Central Utah Project is becoming more of a liability than an asset to Utah County, local government officials and water users told Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, on Monday.

Nielson welcomed the comments but said officials should have aired their concerns five or six years ago.County Commissioners Brent Morris and Sid Sandberg, Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins and Orem Mayor Blaine Willes asked Nielson to meet with Gov. Norm Bangerter and other members of Utah's congressional delegation "so we can resolve Utah County's water concerns," Morris said.

"My personal belief is that the CUP, as it is presently constituted, has become not an asset to Utah County, but . . . more of a liability to our future economic and residential growth and also a liability to the water rights we hold here in Utah County," he said. "Utah County is at a distinct disadvantage, and we're the second-largest county in the state."

Morris said county officials don't want to go to court but that is an option they'll leave open if concerns aren't resolved.

Answers to some local concerns have been provided by bureaucrats, Morris said, "but we're not satisfied with those answers." He said the county wants more for its $16 million tax investment into the CUP than the possibility of losing water rights.

Utah County's interests have been shoved aside, Sandberg said, while CUP development has proceeded regardless of cost.

"That sort of mentality makes me think the proj-ect has developed a life of its own," he said.

The Jordanelle Dam under construction near Heber City tops the list of concerns. Morris said the 300,000-acre-foot reservoir is too big and likely will be filled at the expense of Provo River flow. Reduced river flow, in turn, would threaten downstream fish and wildlife, tourism and aquifer quantity and quality.

Utah Lake water level and quality also would be affected, and water rights of Provo City and local canal companies would be jeopardized, Morris said.

Willes said Provo River aquifer recharge is especially important in Orem, which will need three additional wells by the time its population reaches 120,000.

Robert Fillerup, attorney for the Provo River Canal Commission and the Utah Lake Land Owners Association, said there isn't enough water in the Provo River to fill the Jordanelle and satisfy down-stream demands, including local water rights.

Central Utah Water Conservancy District officials have estimated that the Jordanelle, located between Heber City and Park City, can be filled within three or four years once it's completed. But U.S. Geological Survey reports from 1951 to 1984 indicate otherwise.

Only a few years during that 33-year period were wet enough for the reservoir to have filled in such a short time. It likely will take much longer, local officials say.

Jenkins said the Bureau of Reclamation has no right dictating water rights. He said the state engineer has that right, and he is bound by the Morse Decree, which established Provo River water rights.

To protect water rights, Jenkins suggested an agreement be reached between local water entities and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District over the operation of Jordanelle.

Morris said the Bureau of Reclamation must show "facts and figures" to support claims regarding available Provo River water and that the Jordanelle should be scaled down if water resources are inadequate.

Morris said it's also time to place greater emphasis on water conservation. "We are wasting the water that is currently available to us, yet we want more water without providing programs that will help us conserve it once we get it," he said.

Jenkins joined the commission in expressing concerns about numerous changes made in the CUP. The Jordanelle Dam, which has grown from an originally planned size of 60,000 acre-feet to 300,000 acre-feet, wasn't even part of the original project.

Other changes have been made regarding irrigation plans, the diking of Utah Lake and building a power plant at Diamond Fork.

Fillerup said the CUP is supposed to capture excess water from the Colorado River - something not found in the Provo River.

Jenkins said the CUP's original intent was to bring Colorado River tributary water from Strawberry Reservoir to Deer Creek Reservoir via the Wallsburg Tunnel. Because the tunnel plan was eliminated, Utah County will get no Colorado River water.