By the year 2004 a popular section of the Provo River will be back in its natural stream bed, meanders and all.

A unanimous vote Monday by three members of the Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission approved a $24 million project that took seed back in 1992 and ends a long-standing debate on repairing damage done by the Central Utah Project.Work on the section of the Provo River between Jordanelle and Deer Creek reservoirs could begin as soon as this fall and is expected to take six years to complete.

"We've been working on this plan very hard for the past two years with property owners and the (Wasatch) County Commission," Commission member Bob Valentine said. "What we will try and do is bring this stream back to its original stream bed. When the work is completed it will bring back much of the wildlife and improve the fishery 500 percent. Actually, 491 percent to be exact.

"We think this is a significant project from the standpoint of restoration and mitigation for damage (caused by the CUP). This is something that has to be done. It's part of the requirements. There may be parts of the project some people aren't happy with, but I don't think there is anyone that is against it."

The plan calls for the purchase of adjacent lands to the river; the construction of meanders, backwaters and islands; removing dikes; and replanting vegetation. When completed it will increase the riparian and wetland habitat by 207 acres.

The commission has been given the task of repairing damage done by the $2 billion CUP, which involves a series of dams and pipelines built to bring water from the Upper Colorado River Basin to the Wasatch Front.

In other action the committee approved the modification of an existing agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation for completing several ongoing mitigation measures, including angler access to streams and wetland mitigation. The commission approved $110,000 to help acquire access.

The commission also approved $45,000 for an interagency agreement between the U.S. Forest Service, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Fish and Wildlife Service to study the decline of the sage grouse in Strawberry Valley. The three agencies will also contribute a total of $45,000 for the study.

Sage grouse are on a downward trend all over the western United States. Valentine said this will be one of the first studies to try and determine the reason.

"If something isn't done, and soon, the sage grouse will eventually need to be placed on the endangered list. This is a very important study," he said.

The commission also approved the release of six items for consideration and public comment:

- Interagency agreement with the USFS and the Bureau of Reclamation to continue stabilization of high mountain reservoirs in the Upper Provo River drainage. The focus of this agreement is the completion of the Big Elk and Teapot lakes in 1998.

- Interagency agreement between the USFS for acquisition of inholdings in the Albion Basin on Wasatch-Cache National Forest for watershed protection and wetlands preservation.

- Programmatic agreement between Utah State Historic Preservation Office and the commission for documentation of historical and cultural resources affected by the restoration of the Kamas State Fish Hatchery.

- Programmatic agreement among the historic office, Bureau of Reclamation and the commission for documentation and protection of historical and cultural resources in the Strawberry River Wildlife Management Area.

- Modification of an existing agreement with DWR for continuation of bird population monitoring along the middle Provo River in Wasatch County.

- Modification of an existing agreement with DWR to continue the inventory and database development for sensitive plant and animal species in Utah.