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UTAH IS `BETTING' $16 MILLION ON CUP

Gambling may be illegal in Utah, but state officials are betting $16 million that Congress this year will finally pass a bill needed to complete the Central Utah Project.

The Bush administration earlier this year refused to include $16 million in its proposed 1993 federal budget for work and studies that would be required by that bill because the CUP is now technically bumping into its legal debt limit.So officials of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District - the local agency contracting with the federal government to build the massive water project - told Congress Tuesday it will use local money for that $16 million worth of projects.

"We hope that these funds might be repaid to the district," Ross Garrett, chairman of the Utah water agency, told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Of course, that would happen only when and if a bill to raise the CUP's debt limit by $992 million is passed.

It has languished for three years in Congress. No one opposes that compromise bill worked out by water and hydropower users, environmentalists and Indian tribes. But it is tied in an omnibus bill to controversial California water reform, on which warring groups have been unable to compromise.

Don Christiansen, general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, said his agency felt it had to move forward because if the CUP completion bill does pass, it allows only five years to complete a wide range of environmental studies and to begin several proj-ects.

"If we waited to start those studies, we might struggle to finish them in the five years or to begin projects whose authorization would then sunset," he said. "This also shows our level of support to the CUP to Congress."

He said the local money will come from reserves set aside that his agency built up over the years from local property taxes it collects to complete the CUP.

He said the studies and engineering will prepare for such things as CUP irrigation projects, water conservation, the Diamond Fork water system, environmental mitigation and water projects in the Uintah Basin.

Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, noted "it's not often a local agency is willing to spend money to get ahead of the game. . . It's spending local money that is really for federal-share proj-ects, so I will ask for reimbursement."

Garn also vowed to do all in his power to ensure passage of the CUP completion bill - including filibustering other bills if necessary to finally pass it.

"After being held hostage for three years (by California water reform), this senator knows how to play the ayatollah, too, and take some hostages himself," he said.

The announcement of the $16 million gamble came as local water officials made their annual trek to Washington to ask House and Senate appropriations committees to support funding levels included in the next budget.

President Bush has proposed $29.6 million for the CUP next year. Almost $23 million is to continue work on the Jordanelle Dam near Heber City and to construct the Sixth Water Aqueduct. Another $7 million is for fish and wildlife mitigation.

The CUP is designed in part to bring water from eastern Utah to the thirsty Wasatch Front. Officials say it could complete municipal water portions of the project even if the CUP completion act does not pass. But irrigation systems, environmental work and settling tribal water rights would languish.