For 32 years, the Central Utah Project has been moving along in fits and starts, taking far longer to complete than anyone imagined. So while it is a disappointment and a potential crisis, it's no surprise that efforts to finish up the Bonneville Unit have run into funding problems.
A measure sponsored by Utah's congressional delegation originally sought $735 million in this year's budget to complete the project, but that figure drew so many objections in Congress and the administration that the request has been cut in half, to $370 million.The latest proposal would still finish the CUP work. The rest of the cost would be made up by having the Central Utah Water Conservancy District privately build the Diamond Fork power plant and the irrigation features of the project. This could be done at 25 percent less cost than the federally-financed program.
Hydroelectric power from the plant would be used to finance the irrigation and drainage systems. However, the power would have to be sold at slightly higher rates than the average cost of federal power in the area - raising objections from public power advocates.
But those objections seem short-sighted and selfish. The desire of municipalities and others for low-cost power cannot be allowed to undermine the whole CUP effort. If it can be done with 25 percent fewer federal dollars, everybody is a winner one way or another.
The measure still faces opposition in a deficit-conscious Congress, even after being trimmed down to $370 million. But the same argument holds. This is a chance to do $735 million worth of work for half that amount of tax dollars.
In addition, if the CUP is not adequately funded, it cannot supply the municipal water necessary to meet the terms of repayment contracts approved by voters two years ago.
One way or another, the CUP will have to be finished. It is designed to bring critical supplies of water to the Wasatch Front where most of the state's people live.
Utah is an arid state and without water, it cannot grow and prosper. The necessary water and related electrical power for municipal, industrial, and irrigation use can only come from projects like the CUP. Without it, Utah would be headed down an economic dead end.
The current CUP spending proposal offers a real bargain. Failure to pass the appropriation will only mean more delay. And it is decades of delay that already have made the whole CUP cost many times more than it should.
Congress should have learned that lesson long ago.