Washington • In his proposed budget, President Barack Obama would halt construction on the massive project to bring water from the Colorado River system to the Utah’s thirsty Wasatch Front.
The decades-old Central Utah Project has been on the chopping block before — former President Jimmy Carter tried and failed to kill it — and it is there again.
Obama’s 2014 budget for the Interior Department calls to reduce spending from $25.4 million in 2013 to just $3.5 million next year, and that money would cover administrative costs.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday the government will live up to its commitments to build the water system in Utah.
“But in these tough times, when you are making tough choices, we can’t put all the money into it that we would otherwise put into it,” Salazar told reporters in a briefing on the budget.
The words ring hollow to Don Christiansen, general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.
“This is really devastating,” he said, “to have the secretary of the Interior turn his back on the Central Utah Water Project and give us zero dollars.”
The system is largely built-out but major pieces of the pipeline remain. Christiansen said a two-year project to bring water from Strawberry Reservoir in Wasatch County to Salt Lake County was slated to begin this year.
Congress provided the project with $16 million for construction this year. While members will take the president’s proposal under advisement, they’ll draft their own spending plan.
Utah’s members of Congress have regularly come to the defense of the free-standing Central Utah Project, which has its own line item in the budget, even though Obama has repeatedly tried to fold it into the larger Bureau of Reclamation. In his Interior budget last year, the president argued that doing so could save $8 million per year by eliminating duplication. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, rejected the idea, saying it would take away authority from local officials.
On Wednesday, Hatch spokesman Matt Harakal said the administration should provide money to finish the project that has been going on for decades, not stall it. He said that Hatch would work with the project’s managers to once again “outline its importance to Utah to the Obama administration.”
Congress separated the program from Reclamation in 1992, because Utah’s representatives argued that the government was dragging its feet on the multibillion-dollar project.