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Central Utah Project funding slashed in Obama's proposed budget

SALT LAKE CITY — The delivery of future water to a huge chunk of Salt Lake County and southern Utah County is destined to be delayed because construction funding for the Central Utah Project is not part of President Barack Obama's new budget.

"There have been pretty significant cuts to the funding for the CUP," said Reed Murray, director of the Central Utah Project Completion Office. "We have been, in the year 2010, over $40 million, but this new budget for 2014 has only $3.5 million."

That reduction essentially "zeros out" any new construction beyond the contracts already in place, said Chris Finlinson, governmental affairs director for the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.

The severe reductions led Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to sound the alarm, penning a letter to key players in the U.S. Senate when it comes to the purse strings for energy and water development projects.

"The CUP is designed to develop some of Utah's allocation of the Colorado River, and its completion is critical to the future development of the state," Herbert's May letter said. "Utah cannot continue to prosper without a dependable water supply."

In a telephone interview this week, Herbert said it makes little sense for the federal government to basically eliminate vital funding for a project that is so close to nearing completion.

"All I am concerned about is that they made a commitment to Utah and others impacted by the CUP, and they ought to honor that commitment," he said. "It is not 'they came close' or were 'nearly done,' but this is the project, and it ought to be completed."

The CUP diverts water from the tributaries of the Colorado River and includes an elaborate network of tunnels and pipes. At Strawberry Reservoir, water is piped down Provo Canyon, and along the way, three hydropower plants will also eventually be part of the system.

An estimated 130 miles of pipelines, some as large as 10 ½ feet in diameter, are intended to ultimately convey water to southern Utah communities, as well as the western half of Salt Lake County and some communities on the east side.

Both Utah County and Salt Lake County recipients are slated to get 30,000 acre-feet of water per year once the project is completed, which had been slated for 2021.

"With the financial difficulty, that date will have to slip," Murray said.

Herbert said the project, which will cost $3 billion when completely finished, has never been a federal handout, but a loan from the U.S. government to ratepayers of cities that are part of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.

"Much of that loan has been repaid, and the remaining balance will be repaid with the revenue from the sale of that water," his letter read.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, agrees that the CUP should probably be finished, but said the withering of federal funding may be a good time to take the financial pulse of project that has been "a hemorrhage of cash."

"Having a car is great, but is it worth having that car if it costs 10 times what it is worth? A water project is only as good as it costs," Frankel said.

But Alan Packard, assistant general manager and chief engineer of the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, said the CUP will someday deliver critically needed water supplies necessary for future growth.

"We are planning to start receiving water between 2020 and 2025, and we are projecting a need for that water with the growing population in our service area, so it is very important to us," Packard said.


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