While it is true that salinity benefits soil structure, an excess of salinity in water inhibits a plant’s ability to uptake water, causing stress and negatively affecting plant growth. Due to rapidly increasing concentration of salts in surface and groundwater, the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act was passed in 1974.
Still, U.S. still pay approximately $454 million in damages due to excessive salinity per year. Three out of the four content chapters in the 2017 Quality of Water – Colorado River Basin Progress Report address salinity. Great progress has been made with notable reductions in salinity measurements, however if the control program does not maintain its rigorous standards and controls, those damages are expected to increase by over half a billion dollars by 2035.
This High Country News article is a great primer to water salinity, referencing land, projects, and people throughout the Gunnison River Basin:
Almost 40 million people rely on the Colorado for some or all of their drinking water. The river also supports millions of acres of irrigated farmland in the West, a handful of wildlife refuges and recreation areas, and nearly two-dozen tribal nations as well as farms and cities in Mexico. But its tributaries carry an unwelcome stowaway: salt. So much salt collects in the Colorado that the U.S. sustains hundreds of millions of dollars in crop losses, corroded pipes and other infrastructure woes every year.
Emily Benson, High Country News
The Colorado River Basin Salinity Forum, the organization that spurred the Control Act of 1974, produced a video to illustrate the importance on the salinity control:
The Forum also published the 2017 Review of Water Quality Standards for Salinity in the Colorado River System, which have since been adopted.
While it appears lengthy and intimidating, the first dozen pages are great primers for water users in the Colorado River Basin on salinity, and the remaining one hundred pages are great for those who want to dive further into the future of salinity control and data tables.
More reports, records, and funding opportunities can be found at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program (CRBSCP) page. For historical reference specific to the Gunnison, the CRBSCP considered mitigating increases in salinity increases due to the increased irrigation from the Uncompahgre Project of the early 1900’s. Ken Leib of the USGS has published a number of papers on salinity and selenium control specific to the Gunnison Watershed that could be worth diving into.
The 2018 Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program Briefing Document is another great introduction to salinity in our watershed and beyond.