Washington • President Barack Obama is proposing $5 million toward a construction project to bring water from the Wasatch Back to the populated areas in Salt Lake and Utah counties — a fourth of what the government spent two years ago.
Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget, released Tuesday, suggests $5 million, plus another $1 million in administrative costs, for the Central Utah Project, a line item that has been targeted for cuts in previous Obama budgets. In 2008, the project was tagged at $40 million in the budget but has seen steady decreases since.
"Of course we’re disappointed to see that level," says Christine Finlayson, CUP’s government-affairs director. "Every year we delay adds a cost increase. When we have to ratchet back our construction projects, it becomes more difficult and extends that time line out."
Officials behind the decades-old project had hoped to complete its mission of bringing water from the Uinta Basin to Utah’s metropolitan areas by 2021, though funding cuts could hamper that goal. While the system’s main components are largely built, major pieces tying it together remain under construction.
The CUP has created many waterways and man-made lakes in Utah, including Strawberry reservoir, which was built during the initial incarnation of the project.
CUP is estimated to receive about $7 million this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, about a third of the $20 million it got in the previous cycle.
In addition to the CUP, Obama’s budget tweaks the amount of money it proposes for the removal of uranium tailings near the Colorado River in Moab.
The current fiscal year projects about $38 million be spent on the removal, while Obama’s spending plan proposes $35.8 million. That’s more than the effort received in fiscal 2013, when it got $31.48 million.
On an unrelated line item, the president’s budget proposes about $7.8 million to renovate the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City.
Of course, Obama’s budget is mainly symbolic these days. Congress isn’t likely to take it up in part or in whole. The spending plan hit with a thud on Capitol Hill.
"A full month late, and the president’s budget recycles the same old spending surges, tax hikes and budgetary smoke and mirrors that have repeatedly failed to right the nation’s economic ship and provide financial security and prosperity for Americans across the country," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "It’s no wonder Washington has already dubbed this plan dead on arrival."
The spending blueprint did excite some sectors. It calls for fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which takes money from oil and gas extraction to buy up new lands to preserve across the country.
"The president’s budget is a significant victory for the conservation of America’s shared outdoor heritage," said Alan Rowsome, a senior official with The Wilderness Society.
Less enthusiastic were House Republicans, who have tried to tamp down the fund, arguing that the nation already has an $11 billion maintenance backlog for its national parks and doesn’t need more land to manage.
"That probably won’t happen," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
What will happen, Chaffetz said, is that he and other members of Utah’s delegation will make sure that the CUP receives the money it needs to prevent cost increases and blown deadlines. The House and Senate included the $7 million for CUP construction in fiscal 2014 in its budget deal last year.
"We’ll obviously have to do the same this time," Chaffetz said. "We get good support from both sides of the aisle for these projects."
As it has for several years, Obama’s budget calls for bringing the CUP under the auspices of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, a move that local officials have rejected. Congress had separated the program from the bureau in 1992, charging that the federal government was taking too long to complete the water system.
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