Local concerns about the Central Utah Project are too serious to be brushed aside any longer by well-rehearsed answers, County Commission Chairman Brent Morris said Monday following a meeting with several state officials, including Gov. Norm Bangerter.
Commissioners and other local officials aired a litany of concerns, including fears that the Jordanelle Dam threatens local water rights and that Salt Lake County controls the Central Utah Water Conservancy District board.Morris asked that construction on the Jordanelle be suspended "until there is a complete detailed accounting by some government agency that is willing to put their professional credentials on the line and verify where the water will come from to fill the Jordanelle Dam."
Bangerter said state officials have no plans or desires "to tinker with water rights" and that he believes the state should proceed with the Jordanelle project. Water years are too unpredictable to abandon the project, he said.
"I've become somewhat of an authority on the weather, as you all know, with my Great Salt Lake pumping project," the governor joked. He called the CUP a "complex issue" and admitted mistakes have been made but pledged to do his best to meet the state's water needs.
"I think you have some legitimate concerns," said Rep. Howard Niel-son, R-Utah. He also defended the CUP but admitted some project expenditures have constituted little more than "throwing bones to the starving dogs."
Bangerter and Nielson were joined by the state directors of Utah's other congressional-delegation members, excluding Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, who was not represented. Nielson called the heavily attended meeting, held at the county regional government center, at the request of county commissioners.
CUWCD General Manager Don Christiansen, State Engineer Bob Morgan and Dee Hansen, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, attempted to allay local concerns with the CUP.
"I don't think any of them are new concerns," said Christiansen. Because only five members of the 19-member water conservancy district board are from Salt Lake County, "It's impossible for them to control that board," he said.
As for fears that filling the 300,000-acre-foot Jordanelle could jeopardize local rights, he said officials have no desire "to leapfrog ahead of anybody else who has a (water) right."
Hansen said local water rights will be honored, but he admitted "some difference of opinion" exists about what constitutes local rights.
Morgan said the Jordanelle, being constructed near Heber City, won't always be full. During high water years, he said, surplus upper Provo River flow will be used to fill it and during low water years, water exchanges will be used to fill it.
Those water exchanges, however, worry local officials.
"The Strawberry-Deer Creek exchange of 20,000 acre-feet that was sold to Salt Lake County is nothing but double highway robbery," Morris said. "The 20,000 acre-feet is coming out of Provo River water that is already owned by someone else, and the amount of money paid for this paper shuffle was a steal as $290,000 for 20,000 acre-feet."
He said reduced Provo River flow will prevent recharge of Utah County aquifers and increase Utah Lake's salinity, thus jeopardizing agricultural production.