Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, wants to know if Salt Lake County needs additional water from the Central Utah Project and is investigating an addition to the CUP that would make the system more "flexible."
Owens said Friday that a $30 million to $100 million aqueduct between Spanish Fork Canyon and the Provo River would allow the CUP's irrigation water to flow north into Salt Lake County - if central Utah farmers ever decide to sell CUP irrigation water that has been promised to them since 1965.The CUP's irrigation system has yet to become a reality, and at least three members of Utah's congressional delegation are working on bills that would put a financing proposal for the system before Congress, he said.
But Owens said he wants to pursue the idea of converting irrigation water to culinary water only if Salt Lake County water officials tell him they need more than the 50,000 acre-feet they've already agreed to buy from the CUP. Salt Lake City is obligated to buy another 20,000 acre-feet.
Owens prefaced his visit with a letter outlining 10 major points about the county's future water needs, the adequacy of current contracts and other water issues he wants the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District Board to respond to.
"What I'm asking for is ideas on whether we need to seek some modifications," Owens told the board Friday. "If it is your judgment that we should not . . . I will drop the issue."
Kenley Brunsdale, Owens' administrative assistant, said Owens asked the Bureau of Reclamation if such an aqueduct could be built and was told the project was feasible.
While the total cost, eventual need and likelihood the water would be available are uncertain, plans for water development must be made years before the water is actually needed. Besides, Owens said, the Bear River is the only other water source currently being considered for development. Owens said developing the Bear would likely be more expensive and more difficult politically - and would have to be paid for without the benefit of any federal funds.
The aqueduct, on the other hand, could be built with the help of some federal funds, including Section 8 fish and wildlife mitigation funds, he said, which implies the Spanish Fork water would benefit fish flows on the Provo River if it was piped there before being conveyed to Salt Lake County.
Water from the Spanish Fork River could flow by gravity to Salt Lake County without an aqueduct if it were allowed to flow through Utah Lake. Bolstering flows on the Provo River by importing water through an aqueduct would also allay some Utah County concerns about the CUP, Owens said.
The congressman said he is not trying to pull the rug out from under the Utah farmers who have been counting on having CUP irrigation water. "We're not intending to shift anyone's rights," he said. "I've made it very clear that I'm committed to that (the CUP's proposed irrigation system) and I will continue to be."
Some of the irrigators who would receive CUP water sold water shares several years ago in a lucrative deal with the Intermountain Power Project. Economics might drive them to sell water again in the future, he said.
Gerald K. Maloney, chairman of the conservancy district board, said the proposal raises a whole host of questions about cost and availability. Acting General Manager David Ovard said it would be difficult for the district to take a position until it has more answers about water supplies from Jordanelle Dam, now under construction, and rights on the Provo River.
Maloney said the staff and board could respond to Owens' questions about the need for additional water in Salt Lake County by the end of next week.