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IS PROGRAM'S WELL ABOUT TO RUN DRY?

In 1994, the federal government pumped $3.3 million into Uintah and Duchesne counties as its portion for irrigation cost-sharing projects. But those funds, part of allocations to the Colorado River Salinity Control Program, appear close to running dry.

This year Congress has appropriated just $218,000 to help assist farmers and ranchers install improved irrigation systems in an effort to reduce salt entering the Green River from the Uintah Basin. Under the terms of the 1985 Colorado River Salinity Control Act, the federal government pays for 70 percent of the total cost of the irrigation projects undertaken on private farms and ranches, while the remaining 30 percent of the bill is the responsibility of the individual.The entire effort is aimed at reducing the salt loading into the Colorado River and ultimately winding its way to Mexico. Although the program is not only successfully achieving its goal to reduce salt loads in accordance with a water quality treaty between the U.S. government and Mexico, but benefiting irrigators themselves through substantial increases in yields, funding for the measure may fall victim to federal belt tightening.

Since the salinity control program began in 1980, an estimated 77,000 tons of salt have been prevented from entering the river system, while 1,858 irrigators in Duchesne and Uintah counties have been financially aided in improving watering methods. In addition, 93,950 acres of farm land have been positively impacted by $36 million in improvements that the federal government has funded.

In 1994 alone, 7,182 tons of salt were kept from entering the river, and 113 farmers and ranchers were able to participate in the two counties. But this year, those numbers are expected to nosedive because funding has been cut by a whopping 93 percent. And Webster says cost sharing funds for Colorado River salinity control may totally be eliminated from the Congressional budget in 1996, but there's still work to be done. According to Webster, another approximately 44,000 tons of salt should be removed from the Colorado River in compliance with the salinity control act.