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Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program

Overview

The program reduces salinity preventing salts from dissolving and mixing with the river's flow. Irrigation improvements and vegetation management reduce water available to transport salts vertically, laterally and on the soil surface. Point sources, such as saline springs are also controlled. A long term, interstate and interagency public/private partnership effort is being carried out to reduce the amount of salts in the river and its associated impacts in the basin.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required development of water quality standards for salinity in the Colorado River in 1972. The basin states formed the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum (Forum) in 1973 to develop these standards including numeric salinity and a basin-wide plan of implementation for salinity control that EPA subsequently approved.

In 1974, Congress enacted the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act (Act) with subsequent amendments. This authorized the construction, operation and maintenance of salinity control works in the Colorado River Basin.

Title I of the Act address the United States commitments to Mexico established by agreement of the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico. This agreement addresses the quality of water deliveries to Mexico pursuant to the Mexican Water Treaty of 1944.

Title II of the Act create the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program and directed the USDA, USDA and EPA "to cooperate and coordinate their activities effectively to carry out the objective of this title", i.e. "to control the salinity of water delivered to users in the United States and Mexico."

Highlights

  • More than 33 million people in the U. S. plus 3 million in Mexico depend solely or partially on Colorado River water for agricultural, municipal and industrial use. Salts dissolved in Colorado River cause over $300 million in damages each year
  • Salinity control measures installed with USDA assistance control over 450,000 tons of salt annually. Measures installed with Bureau of Reclamation assistance control about 600,000 tons of salt each year.
  • NRCS currently uses the EQIP to implement on-farm salinity control measures in ten project areas in western Colorado, eastern Utah, and southwestern Wyoming.
  • An additional 800,000 tons of annual salt control are needed through 2020 to ensure that the probability of exceeding the numeric criteria for total dissolved solids in the Colorado River remains low.

Additional Information and Links

The latest annual reports showing progress in the 10 USDA Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Projects administered by NRCS are available at the Bureau of Reclamation's Upper Colorado Region website.

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