Frequently Asked Questions


1) What is the Central Utah Project?

The CUP is the largest water resources development project in Utah. It transfers water from the Colorado River Basin in eastern Utah to the main population areas along the Wasatch Mountains (Great Basin) in central Utah by means of a system of reservoirs, pipelines, and tunnels. The project is divided into different units, and sub-systems for purposes of planning and construction. The units include: the Vernal Unit, Jensen Unit, and Bonneville Unit. The Vernal and Jensen Units are in eastern Utah and are complete and fully functional. The Bonneville Unit, the largest and most complex is further divided into subcomponent systems. These include: the Starvation Collection System, the Strawberry Aqueduct and Collection System, the Diamond Fork System, the Municipal and Industrial System, and the Utah Lake Water Delivery System. The Bonneville Unit is still under construction. Each unit of the CUP operates to meet independent needs and objectives for water resources development in Utah. Together the units operate to fulfill the overall goal of the Central Utah Project. Major construction on the CUP began about 1965. Completion of the Bonneville Unit, the final unit of the project, is scheduled for 2021.

2) What is the overall purpose and need for the Central Utah Project?

The CUP was designed to make use of a portion of Utah’s allotment of water from the Colorado River, as allocated to it by the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Under that compact Utah was allowed to divert, develop and make use of up to 23 percent of the average annual flow of the Colorado River, or about 1.71 million acre-feet of water. Under the CUP, water is captured in the Uinta Basin of eastern Utah, from streams such as the Strawberry and Duchesne Rivers which are tributary to the Colorado River. Water is stored in large reservoirs such as Strawberry Reservoir, Starvation Reservoir and Upper Stillwater Reservoir in eastern Utah, and delivered westward by means of pipelines and tunnels to the Wasatch Front for use in agriculture and by cities and towns for residential water service.

3) How much water is provided by the Central Utah Project?

At full demand, the CUP develops and delivers about 251,750 acre feet of water annually for use by the people of Utah. This water is used for irrigation (112,600 acre-feet) and for municipal and industrial use (primarily culinary) uses (94,750 acre-feet). Included in the total is 44,400 acre feet of water delivered for environmental mitigation purposes. This water maintains aquatic health and sport fish populations in four major Uinta Basin streams: Strawberry River, Duchesne River, Current Creek, and Rock Creek.

4) How much has the Central Utah Project cost?

Since planning on the modern concept of the CUP began in about 1964 costs have exceeded $2 billion. In order to complete the construction, an additional $1 billion will likely be expended.

5) Why has it taken so long to complete the Central Utah Project?

Since the first authorizations for construction were approved by the U.S. Congress in 1965, the CUP plan of action has undergone substantial changes. Project features were added, cancelled and redesigned in an effort to meet rapidly changing needs of the project’s customers. For example, over the years agricultural areas along the Wasatch Front have rapidly converted to urban residential areas and the need for drinking water has overtaken the need for agricultural uses. Also, project costs increased substantially in the 1970s and 1980s, a period of hyperinflation in the United States, placing severe strains upon the federal government to meet the project’s funding needs. These factors have caused repeated delays as project planners struggled to redefine modern needs for CUP water.

6) What is the Central Utah Project Completion Act of 1992?

The CUPCA is Public Law 102-575, enacted in 1992 by the U.S. Congress, to revise the purposes and needs for the Central Utah Project to match modern water resource imperatives in Utah. The responsibility to complete the project was transferred from the federal government, the Bureau of Reclamation, to the local project sponsor, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District of Orem, Utah. The legislation also includes specific guidance and on features approved to complete the project, limits on available funding, and improvements to the planning for the mitigation of adverse environmental impacts. The bill also mandates increased benefits for the Ute Indian Tribe of eastern Utah, which was promised substantial water resource developments within early CUP plans, that have not been build.

7) What is M&I water?

M&I is short for municipal and industrial water, water that is typically treated to high water quality standards and delivered to residences and businesses for drinking. This water may also be used for industrial manufacturing processes. The Central Utah Project develops and delivers about 94,750 acre feet of water each year for M&I purposes.

8) What are the main environmental benefits of the Central Utah Project?

Important environmental benefits of the project involve delivery of water to maintain minimum instream flows in many of Utah’s most important streams and rivers. Minimum flows help to support important sport fishing opportunities and maintain the overall aquatic health of rivers and streams. Sport fishing receives another boost from the project by means of CUP funding to improve Utah state fish hatcheries. These funds have more than doubled the trout production at hatcheries receiving assistance. Land acquisition for wetland protection and enhancement around Utah Lake, along the Jordan River and around the Great Salt Lake is another major environmental accomplishment. These acquisitions conserve rapidly-disappearing wetlands in Utah and help to replace the wetlands lost due to construction of project reservoirs. State hunting areas on the Great Salt Lake received considerable funding assistance to recover from high Great Salt Lake levels in the 1980’s. Stabilization of high mountain lakes associated with the M&I System and the Uinta Basin Replacement projects of the Bonneville Unit improve the wilderness fishing experience for many backcountry hikers and campers.

9) What benefits does the Ute Indian Tribe derive from the Central Utah Project?

In comprehensive settlement language contained in CUPCA, the Ute Indian Tribe of eastern Utah, receives many financial, facilities and legal benefits. Starting immediately, the tribe receives more than $2 million annually from the sale of project M&I water. CUPCA ratifies the 1990 water compact (subject to re-ratification by the state of Utah and the Tribe) which quantifies the tribe’s Uinta Basin water rights and preserves those rights in perpetuity for future tribal uses. CUPCA authorizes funding to assist individual and Tribal farming operations, improve reservoirs and streams, and construct recreation and road improvements on the reservation. In addition the bill authorizes additional funding to assist general Tribal economic development opportunities.