For the past century the federal government has been an active partner with state and local agencies to develop water supplies in the arid West. The last of the large-scale federal reclamation projects to be completed is the Central Utah Project or CUP. The CUP has generated considerable controversy throughout its history. The projects opponents have criticized its expense in terms of both dollars and environmental damage while others have worried about its impact on their water rights. Because of its cost and complexity, planning and construction have spanned decades. This has allowed individuals, organizations, and government agencies opportunity to attempt to influence the plans for the project to address their concerns. During six different periods—the initial congressional debate, project planning, the drafting of environmental impact statement in response to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, a lawsuit challenging that document, President Jimmy Carter's reevaluation of the project as a part of the so called "hit list," local reauthorization of the projects repayment contract—these groups worked to alter the Bureau's plans to reduce the environmental, social, and fiscal impacts of the project. Despite multiple attempts, they failed to significantly alter the Bureau's, increase environmental mitigation, or decrease environmental impacts. However, the project's opponents had been given a seventh opportunity. In the late 1980s, after a half century of planning and more than 20 years of construction—the Bureau knew that it could not finish the project without increasing the congressionally authorized spending limits. At a time of waning federal support for such projects, the Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate committees controlling Bureau projects, Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) and Congressman George Miller (D-CA), blocked the bill until the Utah delegation addressed the environmental concerns and objections of the project's critics. Determined to keep the project alive, Utah's sole Democrat in Congress, Wayne Owens, acted as a mediator and began to negotiate a compromise. A determined five year effort resulted in a seventy-five page compromise bill that allowed the project to move forward while addressing the major concerns of the project's opponents. Congress passed the Central Utah Project Completion Act in October 1992. The Completion Act cut some of the projects irrigation features, increased the amount of local cost share, shifted planning and oversight for the remaining features from the Bureau to the local water District, and mandated increased environmental mitigation overseen by a new independent federal agency. This thesis identifies the primary concerns of the CUP's critics and traces their attempts to alter the Bureau's plans to address these concerns. Further, it provides a more detailed account of the arduous, but ultimately successful attempt to alter the project during the Congressional debates that created and authorized the Central Utah Project Completion Act. Finally, it assesses the success of the legislation to meet it stated goals during the first decade of implementation.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; History



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Central Utah Project, Central Utah Project Completion Act, Bureau of Reclamation



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