While most state leaders are happy that a contract to complete the Jordanelle Dam was awarded Wednesday, Utah County com-missioners and others concerned about local water rights aren't exactly jumping for joy.
The $79.8 million contract to complete the project increases the threat that Provo River water rights eventually will be lost in an effort to fill the large reservoir, local officials fear. Their concerns increased this week during a meeting with Don Christiansen, Central Utah Water Conservancy District manager.Christiansen, who met with commissioners Tuesday, left them with the impression that Provo's water rights during the winter from the Provo River will be needed to fill the Jordanelle.
"It's the Central Utah Project's position that those aren't year-round water rights," Christiansen said Wednesday. Besides, he said, during the winter Provo City and local canal companies can't use much of the river water, which ends up passing through Utah Lake on its way to the desert via the Great Salt Lake pumps.
Nevertheless, Christiansen said, the CUP will honor local water rights, including winter water rights, unless state courts eventually rule otherwise. But he said CUP officials feel winter rights should be made available for filling Jordanelle.
If the courts don't agree, "the project will have to live with that. We're at the mercy of everyone else ahead of us who has water rights," he said.
The CUP's quest for winter water rights "shows us that no one really has answered our questions or alleviated our fears of having water rights taken away," County Commission Chairman Brent Morris said. Without winter rights, there simply will be no other way to fill Jordanelle, he said.
"This supports my prediction of what is going to occur," he said. "If they plan to take away our rights, they ought to be up front about it and let us know now."
Morris admitted that the Jordanelle Dam will be valuable for water storage during wet years. "But the problem is that our high water years come in 20- or 30-year cycles. During the dry years, Provo River will be threatened."
Commissioners and others concerned about the future of water rights feel that the state won't let a high-priced reservoir remain empty, and they've yet to see documentation convincing them that Jordanelle can be filled without loss of local rights.
Commissioner Sid Sandberg said the commission's quest for answers has been greeted as an attack on the CUP. Gov. Norm Bangerter and GOP members of the state's congressional delegation, in a letter to Morris this week, called local concerns "misunderstandings."
Said Sandberg, "My hope is that the CUP will be a matter open for public discussion and input. My impression is that it's not to be talked about. Somehow it makes me suspicious when people say not to ask questions."
CUP wants water in the winter
Central Utah Project officials believe that Provo River water owned by other entities should be made available during the winter to fill the Jordanelle Reservoir.
During the winter, a lot of water owned by canal companies and Provo City runs into Utah Lake, then into the Great Salt Lake and may well end up being pumped into the desert. So the Central Utah Water Conservancy District would like state courts to allow CUP to use that water.