Utah's congressional delegation may cut $200 million from its financing request for the Central Utah Proj-ect and other features of the Colorado River Storage Project.
CUP and other Colorado River Storage Project construction costs are approaching the $2.174 billion spending ceiling approved by Congress, and a bill introduced in October by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, requested the spending ceiling be increased by $754 million to facilitate the completion of the CUP.But Owens is now preparing a substitute bill that would trim the previous request by $200 million.
"What we've tried to do is cut out a lot of things and strengthen the environmental portion of the bill, which I think we've been able to do," said Owens' aide Matthew Durham. "It's mostly to make it more attractive to the Congress."
Environmentalists have been the most vocal CUP critics, especially when appropriations are on the line, claiming the Bureau of Reclamation keeps putting off environmental mitigation requirements in favor of spending annual appropriations for dams and pipelines.
Durham said the entire Utah delegation may achieve a consensus on the proposed substitution bill Monday. When the necessary backing is gained, Owens plans to introduce the bill in the House before the House Water and Power Subcommittee meets in Salt Lake City April 18 to conduct a hearing on the proposal to increase the Colorado River Storage Project spending limit, he said.
The legislation will have to keep a good pace after the hearings to even be considered, said Dan Beard, and aide of Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. Miller is chairman of the subcommittee. "We really don't have many legislative days left" because of the upcoming presidential conventions, Beard said.
Robert B. Hilbert, chairman of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, said he and Don A. Christiansen, board general manager, spent last week in Washington meeting with members of the Utah delegation seeking support for Owens' newest bill.
One feature that would be cut from the CUP construction list is a proposed $50 million pump system that would recirculate stream water in Rock Creek, the north fork of the Duchesne River, the Strawberry River and Current Creek in the Uintah Basin to meet stream-flow requirements. Hilbert said other ways of sustaining stream flows for fish have been developed as an alternative to building costly "Star Wars technology" recirculation pumps.
Even though spending cuts are being considered for a wide range of unfinished CUP elements, Durham said Owens' new bill substantially improves the environmental portion of the previous bill and does not adversely affect CUP irrigation projects that have not yet been started.
Cutting the request before the subcommittee hearings should impress other congressional leaders who will be scrutinizing the Owens bill, Durham said.
Beard agrees. Getting Owens' original bill passed would have been difficult, at best. "Reducing the number is fiscally enhancing. He is beginning to build a very broad base coalition of sportsmen and conservation groups in support of the legislation," Beard said. "I think he recognizes the major stumbling blocks in the past."
The work to restructure unfinished CUP features is largely taking place outside the offices of the Bureau of Reclamation. "We don't have any concrete information on what he (Owens) is doing," said Clifford I. Barrett, regional director for the bureau in Salt Lake City.
"We've been very specific in spelling out what needs to be done in fish and wildlife needs rather than leaving those up to the Bureau of Reclamation to decide," Durham said.
Concurrently, CUP officials are scheduled to appear before House and Senate appropriations committees April 11 to defend the $151.5 appropriation request for the upcoming fiscal year that begins October 1. Beard said there are no ties between the appropriations request for the upcoming year and the legislation that would extend the overall Colorado River Storage Project spending ceiling.