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BUSH SIGNS CUP BILL

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President Bush gave Utahns an early Halloween treat Friday night by somewhat surprisingly signing into law a bill needed to complete the Central Utah Project.

The Reclamation Projects Authorization and Adjustments Act of 1992 allows completion of water projects in 19 states - including spending up to $922 million for the CUP - but it had been strongly opposed by California Republicans who felt it took away too much Central Valley Project water from farmers there to use for fish and wildlife projects.Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said the signing of the bill days before the election "couldn't be political." Bush had to sign it by midnight Sunday to avoid a pocket veto that could not be overridden because Congress has adjourned. His signature Friday put an end to weeks of ferocious lobbying by both sides.

Bush had earlier vowed to help California farmers and veto the bill if necessary. His secretaries of agriculture and interior both urged him to veto it.

Many felt Bush would make good his promise because California has one-tenth of all electoral votes, and may be a key to possible re-election.

But congressional and White House sources said Bush's personal staff - where former Utahn Roger Porter is Bush's economic and domestic affairs aide - had urged him to sign the bill.

They noted that the bill finally passed by Congress earlier this month was very different from versions when Bush had promised to help California farmers. For example, the amount of water California farmers would lose to fish and wildlife had been decreased almost in half from 1.5 million to 800,000 acre-feet. In a news release from the White House, Bush said the bill he signed "was amended to reduce adverse im-pacts on California agriculture."

Aides also said that given current politics with a Democratic Congress, California likely would not get any better deal in the future - especially if Bill Clinton is elected.

Various members of Congress - including Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah - urged Bush to declare he had won the best victory possible and sign the bill, especially not to lose support in other Western states depending on projects in the bill. They also said vetoing or signing of the bill had about equal support in California, so a veto would likely not hurt as much there as its Republican leaders had suggested. Hatch's office reported he has been on the telephone to key officials and the White House to urge the signing.

"Needless to say, 25 years after I started working on CUP, I couldn't be more excited," Garn said during a press conference Friday night at the Salt Lake airport. "It would be difficult to leave 25 years of public service without having the authorization to finish it."

Garn said one of his first jobs as a Salt Lake County water commissioner years ago was working on the start up of CUP. His final speech as a senator was on the CUP.

"It's the best news I've had in a long time."

"It's really great news. This is something we've been working on for years. The hearings - the work behind the scenes - the efforts of so many people can now be realized with the president's signature," Hatch said.

"Jake and Orrin really organized the Western senators to say, `Ignore those guys (who opposed the bill). They don't know what they're talking about,' " said Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah. "I feel nothing but pure delight. I never really worried he would not sign it because it was at best an even impact for him in California. A lot of people love those water reforms. The other 16 or 17 states would be hurt if he didn't sign. I'm very pleased. For 40 years, this is the most important legislation passed for Utah."

Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, who had earlier urged the president to veto the bill because of reservations about "certain provisions in the bill," said it allows water projects to move forward that will help "sustain the economy, improve the environment and enhance the quality of life for the citizens of those states and the nation."

Bush's signature ends a three-year battle in Washington to get approval to complete the decades-behind-schedule water project.

Three years ago, the delegation worked out a compromise with water users, power companies, environmentalists, Indian tribes and the federal project on how to restructure the project to complete its irrigation systems and settle Indian Water rights issues.

Since that agreement, the CUP legislation has been considered noncontroversial. However, it was included in the larger Western water projects bill that was held up for three years because of various fights over California water.

To try to spring the CUP from being held hostage by California disputes, Garn had twice held all energy and water bills in Congress hostage himself - which finally helped lead to passage of the bill just before Congress adjourned.

"I'm having a hard time coming down," said Don Christiansen, general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. "I'm almost speechless. It's a great day."

Christiansen said the district took a "little bit of a gamble" that the bill would pass this year. When the CUP hit its debt limit, the district spent tens of millions of local money to keep construction on schedule.

"We will be reimbursed those dollars or they will count toward our cost share," Christiansen said. "It now allows us to move forward and the head start we took that gamble on puts us where we're ready to go. This is a great day for all Utahns because of the water development and environmental enhancement features in the bill."

The CUP delivers water from eastern Utah to the thirsty Wasatch Front. Even if the bill had not passed, its drinking water projects likely would have been completed - but not irrigation, recreation and environmental projects. And Indian water rights fights would not have been resolved.