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CUP-Ute project put on hold for now

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Dispute also pulls plug on plans for 2 new reservoirsThe Department of Interior pulled out of a water project this week and effectively pulled the plug on designs to build two reservoirs in northern Utah.

Mike Hansen, who coordinates water programs for the department, sent letters to the Ute Tribe, the Central Water Conservancy District, water irrigators and the state telling them of the department's decision to step away from the projects unless the local parties decide how to use the water."(The letter) throws it into their court," Hansen said. "If they want to do something, they'll have to come to us."

The projects, called the Uinta and Upalco units, sought to dam two miles of the Uinta River and Yellowstone Creek as part of the massive $2 billion Central Utah Project.

In June, the Ute Tribe said it no longer wanted the reservoirs on the Uintah Ouray Reservation because they could not store enough water to make them useful for recreation purposes. The secondary water users in the Uinta Basin want the water for irrigation.

Hansen said the two must resolve their water dispute before the Interior Department can get involved.

The tribe, with support from the federal government, contends it can use its 1861 priority right to store the water. The secondary users and the state say that right does not allow storage.

"We don't know if some of their positions are negotiating positions, posturing positions or whether they're firm. We'll find out when they get the letter," Hansen said.

The tribe and the water district were unavailable for comment.

Hansen said the Interior Department will complete its final Environmental Impact Study by August and wait for the other players to decide what to do.

If the projects are not built on the reservation, they likely will not be built because of the added cost and time necessary to find new sites.