clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


Utah's five members of Congress, faced otherwise with almost certain defeat of a bill to boost the cost ceiling on the Central Utah Project, met four times Thursday, including a three-hour lunch session. They emerged with the framework of a bill all of them agreed to support.

The Utahns worked out a compromise measure they hope Upper Colorado Basin states will be able to accept. Failing that, they hope they can cause enough grief to other states during the waning days of the 100th Congress to get their way with a CUP bill.The compromise was discussed Friday by the Upper Colorado River Commissioners organization, which met in Denver. The Colorado River Electrical Distribution Association, whose agreement could be vital to the political fate of the measure, and other Upper Basin water and power groups meet next on Aug. 3 in Salt Lake City. The Utahns said they expect the power groups to take a stand on the bill at that time.

The electrical distribution association will have to back the measure quickly in order to permit the House Interior Committee to report a bill before an Aug. 10 meeting. Chairman Morris K. Udall, D-Ariz., said that would be the last chance for action in 1988. Udall has demanded an agreement with public power as the price of his committee's action.

To both pressure the electrical distribution association to act Aug. 3 and not to stall the bill, and to try to get other Colorado Basin states to support CUP even if the distribution association does not, Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, asked Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., to put a hold on two bills sought by Arizona. One would settle, with federal money, a long-standing water dispute between the Salt River water users and an Indian tribe near Phoenix. The other is a land exchange bill sought by Udall. Garn said he assured Udall the holds on his bills were not meant personally but indicated the overwhelming importance of CUP to Utah.

Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., had warned Tuesday that he would put a hold on CUP if public power users were not appeased. Garn said he was not being vindictive by putting holds on Arizona bills but that "that's just the way the game is played up here."

"And I'm having my staff research to see what bills there may be of interest to the other Upper Basin states," Garn added.

Helping drive Utah's delegation to reach an agreement was the realization that failure of a CUP bill to finance southern Utah irrigation and drainage systems would almost certainly lead to a massive increase in water costs in the Salt Lake Valley, possibly doubling charges to Salt Lake water consumers on top of sharp increases imposed by the repayment contract approved by Utah voters 21/2 years ago.

The delegation compromise involved reluctant acceptance by Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, of a Utah Lake bird refuge he had opposed and agreement by the others to take language in Nielson's CUP bill on financing irrigation and drainage features of the project.

Nielson said he won agreement on provisions assuring construction of the irrigation features and removal of certain stream-flow changes, including those affecting Daniels Canyon.

Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, had earlier decided to drop proposals he had made to increase funding for an environmental commission and require Strawberry water users to make up certain in-stream water shortages.

The Nielson bill's language could help ease opposition to the CUP measure by the other Colorado River states, Owens said, because it provides that power revenues be allocated to the Upper Basin states on the same ratio as directed by the Colorado River Storage Project Act.

That law gives Utah 22.5 percent, Colorado 40 percent, Wyoming 14 percent, Nevada 10 percent and Arizona 13.5 percent of power revenues. Utah's need for money to pay off CUP bonds would provide funds as well for the other states that could be used to build projects authorized in the past, but not funded.

CUP General Manager Don Christianson is expected to propose to Upper Basin state commissioners Friday that their states identify projects they want to build and cooperate in getting public power users to pay for them.

The overall increase in Upper Basin power costs would be about 10 mills, Owens estimated, which would slightly more than double the pres-ent 9-mill cost.

Nielson's language "will solve our problem with the other states," Owens predicted, by offering them an incentive to support the CUP bill.

It would not solve the opposition of power groups, Owens conceded. The electrical distribution association, he said, would still probably fight a doubling of its rate. The key would be whether other Upper Basin states' lawmakers would fight for power users if their states stood to gain funding for projects they otherwise would almost certainly never get to build.

Involved in such negotiations would be agreements to permanently forego some authorized projects in order to build others.

Electrical distribution association officials earlier approved the language in Nielson's bill for dealing with already built CUP features and Owens said that "in fairness" they ought to accept it now as part of the state's compromise.

"The ball is in public power's court," Owens added.

Owens and Nielson, who squared off last week with charges that Owens had "burned" the Republicans "three or four times" and that Nielson had failed to take notice of the CUP bill until last month, took part in Thursday's meeting without public rancor. They thrashed over language of the bill line by line, then told the Deseret News each had swallowed provisions they did not really like, but said "that's the political process."

Garn said he would rather not have seen the controversial bird refuge included, along with other provisions, but accepted the bill as a compromise.