On Feb. 14, Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) signed a letter with 72 other members of Congress urging President Carter to stop "construction of unecessary and environmentally destructive dams" and "trim off the waste of tax dallors on unnecessary projects."
Five days later Carter took the advice and announced the end of funding for 19 major water projects on economic and environmental grounds. Unfortunately for Udall one of the 19 was the huge Central Arizona Project, looked on as a major source of future water for the congressman's home district in Tucson and as a political sacred cow for the rest of Arizona.
A somewhat chagrined Udall will lead the Arizona delegation Monday before Carter's Water Projects Review Board to ask the President to reinstate the $1.79 billion CAP. Udall and his aides now explain that what the congressman really meant was to stop all the other alleged environmentally destructive projects.
Udall is not the first person here to be made uncomfortable by the CAP. The grant water diversion project, which will carry an average 1.2 million acre-feet of Colorado River water 300 miles across the state to blooming growth areas around Phoenix and Tucson, has produced an unusual roster of embarrassments. Since federal funding began for the project in 1968:
Serious questions have been raised over whether the Colorado RIver has adequate water to fulfill the promises of water deliveries by the CAP or whether the water is needed at all.
The cost of the CAP has grown from an original $832 million to a present projected figure of $1.79 billion, making it the largest single-stage water project in U.S. history. Some critics claim before it is finished the CAP could cost the Bureau of Reclamation - and ultimately taxpayers and water users - $3 billion.
Two geological faults have been discovered under the project's major dam. The existence of the faults was revealed by a state study only after the Bureau of Reclamation's engineers gave the dam area a geological clean bill of health.
All or part of the project has come under fire from various Indians, environmentalists, civic groups, unions, archaelogists and political reformers who see it as a symbol of Arizona's money-dominated political system. "It has something for almost everyone to hate," said a critic this week.
Potential conflicts of interest have been publicly pointed out among political supporters of the project and among those charged with administering its highly valuable water resources.
How could a project which has been sought eagerly by officials and many other here for decades as the key to Arizona's agricultural and business future run into such a buzz saw of problems?
"It never really was wanted or needed as badly as a lot of its suporters thought," said Frank Welsh, a Phoenix engineer who heads Citizens Against the Project, a group that has been fighting the Central Arizona Project for two years. "It's been the sacred cow of big business, the banks, big agriculture and the politicians they back," said Welsh.
Supporters of the Central Arizona Project, however, point out that levels of water beneath the surface in the state are dropping alarmingly fast in growing areas and that the prospect of more expensive water from wells and the possibility of running out of water is a valid reason for the CAP's existence.
The Arizona Bureau of Mines noted eight years ago that the state was using 2.5 million acre-feet annually more than could be replaced by rain or snow. Agriculture in the state accounts for the heaviest use with 89 per cent of state water consumption going into this area. The groundwater situation has reached serious proprotions that Tucson residents recently held a recall election against their city council because of skyrocketing water charge there.
In a newsletter after the proposed cancellation of the water project by the Carter administration, Udall told his southern Arizona constituents. "The CAP is not a land dealers' hustle. It is the key to orderly development of our state's resources and its future."
There is some question, however, about whether both Phoenix and Tucson really need the CAP water as badly as some officials claim.
A National Water Commission study done two years ago showed central Arizona with enough surface water from rivers already there to meet the needs of 10 million persons. The sharpest growth projections for the CAP area show a maximum population of 5 million by the year 2020.
"The real problem is nobody in the state until recently has ever seriously looked at alternatives to the CAP," said state Sen. Morris Farr.
The availability of water through the CAP has also been questioned. One group of researchers at the University of Arizona, examining long-term water flow cycles in the Colorado River, has determined that the Bureau of Reclamation seriously overestimated the long-term water flow in the Colorado.
Ironically, the CAP's own "watergram" put out last May noted that under a multistate agreement the CAP must defer to California in the event of a serious water shortage in the Colorado River.
The Bureau of Reclamation also was embarrassed when the state Bureau of Mines in 1975 discovered a pair of geologic fault lines under the spot where the CAP planned to build the controversial Orme Dam. The $240 million dam would stand 195 feet high near the junction of the Salt and Verde-rivers north of Phoenix.
The dam has been a focal point of anger on the part of the Yavapai Indian tribe which would lose most of its reservation because of backflooding from the dam. It has also angered environmentalists because it would destroy bald eagle habitals. Some scientists claimed the lake produced by the dam would cover a number of 2,000-year-old archaelogical ruins.
The CAP has also been criticized as a grab bag of potential conflicts of interest. A number of potential conflicts of interest among members of the Arizona Water Commission and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, two agencies which play key roles in allocating valuable water supplies from the CAP have been made public recently.
At the request of Common Cause, the State Water Commission disclosed last month that five of its seven members have potential conflicts of interest, including interests in land, businesses and banks that would benefit by the commission's decisions.
The disclosure was voluntary and in some case only partial since a fluke in the state law absolves the commission of mandatory financial disclosure required of officials at the county and state levels. The commissioners are appointed by the governor and recommend to the Secretary of Interior who will be allowed water from the CAP.
The allocation of water by the commission can be extremely profitable since CAP rules allow agricultural water to be converted to development purposes with no public hearing. A senior police fraud investigator said in an interview this week that the allocation of water "can change a $50-an-acre piece of land into a $5,000-an-acre piece of land overnight."
At least one strong political supporter of the CAP has close ties with an applicant for water from the project.
Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) recently noted in a newsletter to his constituents that he met with President Carter to urge resumption of funding for the CAP. Goldwater expressed "disappointment" with Carter and his aides' knowledge of water needs.
Goldwater's brother Robert heads Arrowhead Water Co. According to a list of applicant released last November by the Arizona Water Commission, Arrowhead won what the commission called "favorable consideration with some reservations" for an allocation of 200 acre-feet of CAP water in 1985 and 990 acre-feet in 2034. Earlier Arrowhead had applied for 1,000 acre-fect by 1985 and 9,000 acre-feet of CPA water of 2034.