Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said Monday he has spent two-thirds of his time working on Colorado River Storage Project legislation during the past seven months, and delegation acceptance of his bill is near.
A bill Owens introduced in the House, and another introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, would extend the Colorado River Storage Project spending limit to facilitate completion of the Central Utah Project.Although he and Garn vigorously debated differences between their respective bills during a recent House subcommittee hearing in Washington, Owens said the funding of a proposed fish and wildlife mitigation commission is the only major point of contention between himself and Garn, who has been the perennial CUP lead man among Utah's congressmen.
Owens' bill proposes the commission be funded with $15 million annually from public power revenues and be given power to administer federal Section 8 funds earmarked for fish and wildlife mitigation and enhancements needed because of CUP construction.
Owens told the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, the local CUP sponsor, that the entire Utah delegation supports the idea of establishing a commission separate from the Bureau of Reclamation and from other state and federal agencies to oversee the spending of federal funds designated to mitigate the effects CUP construction - something the Bureau of Reclamation now has charge over, but has neglected, Owens said. Reclamation had paid "very little attention to environmental repairs and mitigation" that should have been done commensurate with the construction of project dams and pipelines.
Other members of the Utah delegation support creating a commission - with varying degrees of enthusiasm, Owens said. Garn is opposed to financing the commission after CUP construction is finished. Owens believes financing the commission even after the CUP is completed is a must.
Ron Crittenden, an aide to Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, responded to Owens' suggestion that the entire delegation supported the creation of an independent commission by saying Nielson has never supported the commission and is set against it continuing after the CUP is finished.
The $15 million suggested to finance a part-time commission and a "thin" full-time staff is a number picked out of the air, Owens said. "How much we're going to get, I don't know."
The commission would have to exist perpetually, not being disbanded when CUP construction is finished, because environmental repairs and mitigation would lose their vitality otherwise, Owens said.
A bill introduced by Garn last fall requested Colorado River Storage Project funding be increased $734 million. That amount has been pared down to about $380 million by eliminating several features and proposing the CUP's irrigation and drainage features from Utah County south be privately financed.
Owens told the water board he didn't understand the CUP at first, although he knew how important and significant the project is. He concluded early on that "there was no single thing I could do in the two years of this term that would impact, for good, the economy of Utah," more than see the Colorado River Storage Proj-ect reauthorization pass.