Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program

Program overview

The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program aims to reduce salinity in the Colorado River, which can damage crops and infrastructure that use the water.

In 1972, Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, mandating efforts to maintain water quality in the United States. Around the same time, Mexico and the United States agreed to Minute 242 of the 1944 Water Treaty, related to salinity levels of Colorado River water being delivered to Mexico (download Minute 242). In 1973, the Colorado River Basin States established the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum (Forum) for interstate cooperation on activities to comply with Section 303(a) and (b) of the Clean Water Act.

The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act (Public Law 93-320) was enacted by Congress in 1974 and authorizes the Secretaries of the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to implement measures that enhance and improve the water quality of the Colorado River System for use in the United States and Mexico.

Title I of the Salinity Control Act authorizes the Bureau of Reclamation to take actions necessary to comply with the agreements made between the United States and Mexico in Minute 242. Projects authorized under Title I include the extension of the Main Outlet Drain Extension, the Yuma Desalting Plant, the Coachella Canal Unit, the Protective and Regulatory Pumping Unit, and the Reject Stream Replacement Study.

Title II of the Salinity Control Act created the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program, authorizing activities upstream from Imperial Dam to meet the objectives and standards set by the Clean Water Act. Implementation of salinity control measures under Title II is administered through the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum and Advisory Council, and is a cooperative effort involving the Basin States and federal agencies from the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture. Since the implementation of the Salinity Control Program, measures have been put in place to control more than 1.2 million tons of salt annually. Title II facilities operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation include the Grand Valley Unit, Las Vegas Wash Unit, Lower Gunnison Basin Unit, McElmo Creek Unit, Meeker Dome Unit, and Paradox Valley Unit.

Water and salinity control infrastructure
Wells and other infrastructure of the Paradox Valley Unit, a critical salinity control facility funded under Title II, above the Paradox Valley.

The Title II Salinity Control Program, which constitutes the majority of the basin states’ salinity control efforts, includes programs across a range of federal agencies:

  • Bureau of Land Management’s Aquatic Resources Program – the BLM funds and implements salinity control projects on BLM-administered lands.
  • Bureau of Reclamation’s Basinwide Program – The Basinwide Program fund and implements a range of off-farm salinity control projects.
  • Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – This program provides technical assistance and cost-share funding to improve on-farm irrigation infrastructure and management.

A wide range of other federal, state and local agencies are involved in implementing the above major programs and other salinity control efforts.

Photo of a field with a linear sprinkler irrigation system, with mountains in the background.
Example on-farm salinity control project funded through the Title II Salinity Control Program: sprinkler irrigation near Cortez, Colorado.

Colorado River Board activities

Both the Forum and Advisory Council include the same three representatives from California; the Colorado River Board provides one of these representatives (see the Forum and Advisory Council organization and list of members). In addition, the CRB provides staff to serve on the Forum’s Work Group.