This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Many Utahns never think about where their water comes from, or how it gets delivered, in part because water is always there when they need it. As the second-driest state in the nation, one of the most valuable and limited resources is water. As a former Salt Lake City water commissioner and mayor, protecting water supply is near and dear to my heart.
The largest reason we have the water we have today is because of something called the Central Utah Project (CUP). It was authorized by Congress on April 11, 1956, and implemented by the Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation to help meet Utah's long-term water needs. Several decades after approval, construction progress on the CUP proceeded slowly because of the complexity of the project and inadequate and sporadic federal funding.
The slow progress prompted state and local officials to ask Congress to empower the Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD) to complete the planning and construction of the remaining portion of the CUP, specifically the Bonneville Unit.
While a senator, I worked with multiple stakeholders including former Gov. Scott Matheson, Sen. Orrin Hatch, former Reps. Wayne Owens and Jim Hansen and many other local leaders to ensure that this project was completed. I have always believed that federal, state and local leaders have a moral responsibility to provide safe, reliable water for current and anticipated growth in the state.
In 1985, Utah voters within the CUWCD overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 73 percent in favor of a supplemental repayment contract to the federal government which increased the local repayment amount for the project. However, an increase in the congressionally authorized price tag was also needed.
After years of negotiating a compromise in order to keep the project moving forward, Congress responded to local concerns by enacting the Central Utah Project Completion Act in 1992. For the first time in history, Congress designated a local entity (the CUWCD) as the planning and construction entity for a major federal water project. We were able to move control out of Washington, D.C., in order to provide clean, dependable water to the area for many years to come.
Since these congressional approvals, the CUWCD has moved forward expeditiously with the completion of the Central Utah Project. Many of the water pipeline and station projects have been completed well ahead of schedule and under budget. Today the Central Utah Project is over 95 percent complete, which is quite impressive considering the history of uncertainty in the 1980s.
Today, roughly 62 percent of the state's population lives in the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. The CUWCD delivers clean, usable water to a majority of Utahns by managing the vast Central Utah Project and a large network of water facilities.
Despite all of the positives from what the CUWCD has been able to accomplish, the federal government being contractually obligated, has failed repeatedly to provide funds to complete the project. Funding the remaining portion of the CUP is very important to those who await water from the project.
I know our current Utah congressional delegation is fighting hard to appropriate the remaining authorized funds for the project, and I personally want to thank them. They understand that this money is vital to completing the last 5 percent of the Central Utah Water project. I have great fear that if funds are not provided it will have a negative affect on preparing for the future population growth in our state.
It is time for the federal government to keep its end of the bargain and continue funding the completion of the project.
Although its history has been long and sometimes controversial, when fully complete, the Central Utah Project will provide water for farms, industry and municipal use well into the 21st century.
E.J. "Jake" Garn served in the U.S. Senate from 1975 to 1993.