The Ute Indian Tribe says it will not support construction of the planned Uintah Unit water storage project in Uintah County as well as the Upalco Unit proposed for Duchesne County if they are built on tribal trust lands. Three years ago the tribe said they would not support the projects unless they were built on tribal property.In a prepared statement read to federal, state and local water officials in a meeting in Salt Lake City Monday, Ute Business Committee Chairman Ron Wopsock said the proposed operation agreement will not adequately serve the tribe.
"The Uintah Unit, as presently configured, no longer provides the tribe with the benefits it believes are necessary to justify building the Lower Uintah Reservoir on the reservation," Wopsock read from a prepared statement. "Similar changes to the configuration of the Upalco Unit will make the unit equally untenable from the tribe's perspective."
Wopsock said the tribe would work to obtain the water storage projects if they were built off the reservation, but with the funding deadline looming, their position essentially kills any chance either unit will be built. A request for construction funding should be submitted in July for the 2000 federal budget.
Environmental impact statements are in the process of being finalized for the Uintah Unit at its proposed site on the reservation.
The Central Utah Water Conservancy District and its consultants have spent millions of dollars over the past seven years planning for construction of the two water storage projects - believed to be the last of the federally funded water projects for the West. Money for construction was included in the Central Utah Project Completion Act signed into law by President George Bush in 1992.
After Wopsock finished reading the tribe's position paper, the Business Committee and their attorneys walked out of the meeting. State, county and federal water officials were left speechless.
"I expected them to come up with a position that would probably be different than ours, but I thought we could talk and find common ground," said Randy Crozier, Duchesne County Water District manager.
Members of the Business Committee are out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Ron Johnston, program director for the Department of the Interior, said the tribe's decision surprised him. Johnston serves as the federal government liaison between the tribe and Central Utah Water Conservancy District.
"It certainly is a very gloomy situation. Various parties have taken a very tough stand. I don't know if there's room for compromise or not," Johnston said.
Local irrigation companies have also objected to some of the proposals included in the operating proposal for the Uintah Unit, but last month officials with the Central Uintah Water Conservancy District, Duchesne County and the Interior Department were optimistic the parties could agree to build the Uintah Unit and come to terms later with the specifics dealing with administration of water rights.