Press Releases

Hickenlooper, Bennet, Lummis, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Boost Support for Programs to Reduce Salinity of the Colorado River

Jul 26, 2023

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet, and Cynthia Lummis introduced the Colorado River Salinity Control Fix Act to provide greater support for Colorado River Basin water users and local governments working to reduce the salt load in the Colorado River. U.S. Senators Alex Padilla, John Barrasso, Kyrsten Sinema, Dianne Feinstein, and Mitt Romney are original cosponsors of this legislation.

“The aridification of the West is changing the Colorado River we all depend on, making it even more crucial to manage its salt levels. Meeting this new reality is essential to maintaining our way of life,” said Hickenlooper.

“The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the American West, and its water is a precious resource for communities in Colorado and the industries that drive our economy. As our population grows and as we face a hotter and drier future, the federal government needs to provide greater support for state and local leaders to protect our water supply,” said Bennet. “This bill supports ongoing efforts to keep water from the Colorado River safe for communities, farmers and ranchers, and water users throughout the entire Basin. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this bipartisan legislation.”

“The Colorado River is a major source of water for Wyoming residents and businesses. Reducing salinity in the river is key to ensuring Wyoming continues to have access to usable water,” said Lummis. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Fix Act to help implement important infrastructure projects on the river to reduce salt levels.”

Nearly 40 million people across seven states and over 30 Tribes rely on water from the Colorado River. However, naturally-occurring salinity affects our ability to harness this water source for agricultural, municipal, and industrial water users. High salinity levels can reduce crop yields, limit which crops can grow, and even kill trees and make the land unsuitable for agriculture.

The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act of 1974 authorized and supported salinity control projects and research across the American West, including through the Bureau of Reclamation’s Basin States Program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program. These programs provide assistance to farmers, ranchers, and water users who utilize salinity control measures. The Colorado River Salinity Control Fix Act would increase the federal cost-share for these salinity control programs across the Colorado River Basin.

“Increasing salinity in the Colorado River threatens the drinking water, farmlands, and livelihoods of nearly 20 million Californians,” said Padilla. “As climate change and historic droughts have increased water treatment costs, the burden on states has become immense. Our bill would ensure the federal government does its part to control the rising salinity in the Colorado River and protect communities across the Basin for years to come.”

“Arizona and the American West’s prosperity depends on a secure water future. We’re fixing the current federal cost-sharing formula to protect the critical Colorado River Salinity Control Project,” said Sinema. 

“Saving the Colorado River is going to take cooperation from all seven basin states and the federal government. Our bill supports that united effort and would help reduce the salinity of the Colorado River, saving millions of dollars from corrosion to water infrastructure, reduced crop yields, and other costs associated with high salinity,” said Feinstein.

“Reducing the salinity of the Colorado River benefits Utah, and its sister Basin states, by ensuring that we meet water quality standards while increasing the economic opportunities and infrastructure of our local communities,” said Romney. “Unfortunately, decreases in hydropower revenues as a result of our historic drought and increases in the costs of implementing salinity projects have left our states with insufficient funds to meet our current cost share requirement. I’m proud to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation, which is a long-sought priority for Utah, to help our state shoulder the costs of desalinizing the Colorado River.”

“Over the years the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program has been successful in reducing the damages to water users caused by the high level of salts, most of which come from federally administered lands, in the Colorado River. However, damages still exceed $350 million annually. The Program is funded through appropriations and a cost-share which comes from a mill levy on power sales from federal projects within the Colorado River Basin. However, in recent years, due to prolonged drought and increased costs, the power revenues have been insufficient to provide the needed cost-share dollars. The proposed legislation, which is supported by all seven Colorado River Basin States, adjusts the cost-share percentages on portions of the Program to bring the cost-share in balance with Program needs,” said Don Barnett, Executive Director of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum.

“Colorado recognizes the importance of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program to our water users and the entire state, and supports this effort to address the imbalance between funding and cost share requirements, which is needed to sustain this important Program,” said Becky Mitchell, Colorado Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission and Vice-Chair of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum.

“As a headwaters state, Colorado has always been a strong supporter of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program. This Program helps Colorado and its water users stay in compliance with Clean Water Act requirements,” said David Robbins, Colorado member of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum. “The proposed Colorado River Salinity Fix Act fixes the present imbalance between Program funding and cost share requirements, and will allow Colorado and the other Basin States to continue to maintain compliance with water quality standards.”

The text of the bill is available HERE.

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