Lower Gunnison Project Purpose:
The purposes of the Lower Gunnison Project are to comprehensively improve water use efficiency by converting existing flood irrigation systems to pressurized irrigation systems and to improve water quality by reducing salinity and selenium concentrations in the Colorado River Basin.
The project involves an integrated approach to increasing efficiency of agricultural water use. The project would take steps to reduce seepage and deep percolation of agricultural waters and to decrease associated salt and selenium loading and water loss. Additional project opportunities include better managed river diversions for farm use and increased agricultural production. Through improved water use efficiency, the project addresses multiple Critical Conservation Area (CCA) resource concerns in the Colorado River Basin, including:
- Water Quality Degradation: Excessive salts (and selenium) in surface waters and ground water
- Insufficient water
- Soil Quality Degradation: Concentration of salts and other chemicals
- Inadequate Habitat for Fish and Wildlife: Habitat degradation
NRCS RCPP funding would be applied to water management upgrades that address the CCA resource concerns within four approved project subwatersheds. The participating water conservancy districts and the water user association in each of the four subwatersheds are:
- Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District, southeast of Montrose
- Crawford Water Conservancy District, near Crawford
- North Fork Water Conservancy District, near Paonia and Hotchkiss
- Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, located primarily between Montrose and Delta.
NRCS RCPP funding can be applied to water management upgrades throughout the four subwatersheds on either privately owned lands or BLM or Reclamation-managed lands. The four subwatersheds were identified by the River District in collaboration with water users in the Gunnison River basin and meet the definition of a watershed as outlined in the NRCS’s National Watershed Program Manual.
NRCS and the Watershed Plan-EA Process
The Colorado River Water Conservation District has received a funding commitment from the following NRCS-administered programs:
- Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
- Watershed and Flood Prevention Program (Public Law 83-566)
Through the RCPP, NRCS uses locally led conservation partnerships to stretch investments and reach conservation goals on a regional or watershed scale.
Through the Watershed Program, NRCS provides assistance to partnering organizations (states, local units of government, tribes, and other sponsoring organizations) to address water-related and other natural resource issues, to conduct studies, to develop watershed plans, and to implement resource management systems for soil erosion control, water management and other purposes.
The Watershed Program requires NRCS to develop a physically, environmentally, socially, and economically sound Watershed Plan for the Lower Gunnison Project, including associated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation.
NRCS has prepared a Draft Watershed Plan and Environmental Assessment (Plan-EA) to determine if NRCS’ Federal action has the potential to significantly affect the quality of the human environment. The Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management and the River District, as the Sponsoring Local Organization, are cooperating agencies on this Plan-EA. This Plan-EA conforms with BLM and Reclamation planning considerations, including the Salinity Control Program, as administered by Reclamation and authorized by P.L. 98-569 and the Salinity Control Act, P.L. 93320.
Any future NRCS RCPP funding obligated to the project sponsor for the Lower Gunnison Project will undergo its own independent NEPA review. However, that NEPA review may be tiered from this Watershed Plan.