MCD – Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Project

Mancos River Salinity Control Project

The Mancos River Salinity Control Project is an ongoing project in the Mancos Valley.

The Basin States Parallel Program offers financial assistance of up to 75% to landowners in order to improve the efficiency of irrigation systems on their land in western Colorado. It is estimated that over 1,000,000 tons of salt were entering the Colorado River each year from designated salinity areas in Colorado prior to 1978. By implementing the program, rural landowners can help to reduce the amount of salt entering the Colorado River.

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 Colorado River Salinity Basin States Parallel Program has been administered in Colorado through the Colorado State Conservation Board (CSCB) since 1998. An agreement was signed between the CSCB in February of that year to deliver the program through local conservation districts in Colorado. The Western Slope office of the CSCB, located in Grand Junction, serves as the coordination point for Colorado’s program participation. Ongoing agreements, renewed annually, are in place with five Conservation Districts to manage and deliver the program locally. Technical assistance is provided through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field offices and by employees hired by local Conservation Districts as part of the funding agreement between NRCS, CSCB, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Five western Colorado Conservation Districts, located in Grand Junction, Delta, Montrose, Mancos, and Cortez; together with local NRCS staff provide technical assistance, support, and supervision for approved salinity projects.

Since the beginning of the program in 1998, more than 100 projects have been completed with cost share funding of just under $3 million. In 2005, more than $3.4 million was paid to landowners in cost share dollars. Currently we have 172 active contracts among the 5 conservation districts.

The Colorado River drains 246,000 square miles (approximately 157 million acres) of the western United States and Mexico while providing water to some 7.5 million people within its own basin and supplies wholly or in part the water needs of an additional 25.4 million people outside the basin through trans-basin diversions.

The United States Government and the seven basin states have long recognized the importance of the river and its tributaries to the survival of the region. From the headwater states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico, to its terminus in the Gulf of California, the river’s water increases in salinity.

It is estimated that the river carries an average salt load of nine million tons annually.

In 1972 the Clean Water Act mandated efforts to maintain water quality standards in the United States. During the same time Mexico and the United States were discussing the increasing salinity of the Colorado River and the economic and environmental impacts the added salinity was having on downstream users. In 1973 the seven Basin states formed the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum and directed it to control salt contributions to the river from manmade sources as a condition for continued development of compact-apportioned water.

In 1998 an agreement was signed by the US Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado River Basin Salinity Forum to provide funds to cost share with water users in the upper basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah that would parallel the federal USDA’s efforts to reduce salt contributions to the river from irrigation.

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.”


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.