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SMOOTHER WATER AHEAD FOR CUP BILL

A logjam over Western water policy began to break up Thursday, and a bill needed to complete the Central Utah Project could be flowing toward passage after nearly nine months of stagnation.

The CUP - and dozens of other Western water projects in an omnibus water project authorization bill - have been held up that long in the Senate by arguments over how that bill should allocate and charge for California water among that state's feuding cities, farmers and environmental groups.But Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., announced Thursday that the California groups appear to have worked out their differences.

"We have come to a general conceptual agreement on most provisions," Johnston said. "I wouldn't call it a done deal yet, because there is a lot of detail left to fill in."

But he said he expects the California provisions of the big water bill to be ready for action by his committee next Wednesday, when he said he hopes to pass it and send it to the full Senate.

"We need a bill this year and soon," Johnston said. "I think both farmers, cities and those interested in wildlife and the environment . . . (all) need to give a little."

Late last year, Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, prodded the California groups and others into action by promising to filibuster to death all the committee's bills until they started moving. His hold on the bills only lasted a few days, ending when he received promises the bill would move early this year.

In preparation for the expected logjam breakup next week, the committee on Thursday marked up and prepared for passage all other portions of the water bill - including those that would authorize raising the CUP's debt limit by $922 million to complete it.

After talking about California problems, Johnston looked at Sen. Garn and said, "I suppose there is still some passing interest in the Central Utah bill, right Jake?"

"Just for the past 23 years," Garn responded.

The committee then approved CUP provisions - but with one hitch. It deleted a provision already passed by the House calling for a study on whether yet-to-begin water development units originally envisioned in the Colorado River Storage Project are still viable.

Garn opposed that, saying the water, power, agricultural and environmental groups that negotiated the CUP bill over 21/2 years agreed there should be no compromise to their final package - which included a call for that study.

When - and if - the omnibus water bill finally passes the Senate, significant differences between it and a House bill passed last June must still be resolved between the two bodies.

The need for the bill is becoming acute for the CUP - which finally began to bump into its debt limit this year. The government has begun to turn off its faucet of federal funds.

For example, the $29.6 million that President Bush included in his 1993 budget for the CUP is $15 million less than requested because of debt-limit problems, administration officials have said.

CUP officials have said they likely have enough room in their existing debt ceiling to complete the Jordanelle Dam near Heber City and other major systems needed to deliver drinking water to the Wasatch Front from eastern Utah.

However, the additional debt limit is needed to complete irrigation and drainage systems in rural areas, to provide greater environmental mitigation and to pay $196.8 million to settle water rights disputes with the Ute Indian tribe.