The House Interior Committee loaded with members from affected Western states called in Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus to complain bitterly about the Carter administration's plans to cut off some of their water projects.
The only satisfaction they got was a promisr to hold public hearings so that if states could prove the worth of the projects President Carter would support their funding.
The uproar began last weekend when it was learned that Carter had deleted $289 million from the Ford budget for construction of 19 water development projects pending a review and decision by April 15 as to whether they are worthwhile. They would cost $5.1 billion to complete. Congress has appropriated $940 million over the years to begin construction on the huge dam and other water projects.
Chairman Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), who learned about the possible cancellation of the $1.4 billion Central Arizona Project from a reporter, called the action the "Washington Day Ambush."
Udall said he wasn't troubled by review of the merits but by lack of consultation with Congress and shifting the presumption so that all projects are considere guilty until proved innocent.
"The whole thing is backward," Udall said.
Andrus mentioned a letter signed by about 30 members of Congress, including Udall, which was sent to carter urging reform of the handling of water projects.Udall later complained that he had been "mousetrapped" into signing that letter in the belief that it referred to future projects, not those already authorized.
Andreus told the members of Congress that Carter made a campaign issue of the need to take another look at the huge water projects, authorized a decade ago, to make sure they are worth the cost. One of the projects in California may not meet earthquake standards. Another in North Dakota would carry salty water into Canada. The Arizona Project to carry water over mountains to Phoenix and Tucson would be the largest of its kind in the world.
Andrus said the list of 19 projects was selected at a White House meeting attended by the President, Andrus, Director Bert Lance of the Office of Management and Budget, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and Secretary of the Army Clifford L. Alexander.
Asked whether Carter would impound and refuse to spend the construction funds if Congress voted them over his opposition, Andrus said that both the President and Lance "take a dim view of impoundment."
Andrus promised that the review process would include public hearings at which the affected states and members of congress could make the case for their projects. Udall called this "commitment to full and open hearings" an important achievement of the meeting.
Most of the questioning was critical, from members who stood to lose projects. But Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who had no affected project in his district, applauded the administration for reviewing these projects that were authorized years ago when costs were far lower and problems different. "Some of the environmental reports read like horror stories," he said.
After the session, Andrus said, "The message I got from it was that if a member had a water project he didn't want it canceled."