River Beat: Will Utah Project be Scuttled?

Major water project development in the western US has always depended on federal subsidies. One can view those subsidies in a number of different ways – a boondoggle propping up rich ag interests, a foolish lack of clarity about what it really means to build a society in the arid lands, or a reasonable federal interest in supporting societal development that would otherwise not be possible west of the 100th meridian.

Whichever version of history one prefers, it seems increasingly clear that we are seeing the end of the era of federal subsidies. Yesterday’s story by Judy Fahys and Thomas Burr in the Salt Lake Tribune is a case in point:

The Wasatch Front has labored for decades to channel water from Utah’s eastern mountains to its thirsty and growing population, and Washington, D.C., has pumped more than $2 billion into building the Central Utah Project to support that goal.

Last week, project supporters said, word came that the Obama administration’s budget makers will not let a drop flow from next year’s funding spigot.

Budgets are where governments reify their goals and values. So this bears watching.