1) Provides ESA compliance for existing and new private/public water users.
The Gunnison Basin Programmatic Biological Opinion recognizes that depletions of water and existing selenium concentrations harm endangered fish. The PBO provides Endangered Species Act compliance for existing public and private water user activities that harm endangered fish species provided that certain measures are implemented, including the SMP.
2) Provides water security, environmental compliance and regulatory certainty in the Gunnison Basin.
The PBO greatly reduces the chances of major conflicts between the ESA and existing and new water uses in the basin.
3) Provides ESA compliance for Upper Gunnison Basin subordination and compliance for depletions from new augmentation contracts throughout the basin.
Without the subordination, the water rights of the Aspinall Unit would hinder any new water developments in the upper Gunnison Basin. With the subordination, the water user with a senior water right, in this case the Aspinall Unit, allows a junior water right to take water before the Aspinall Unit. Numerous existing and future small water sales and uses are now covered by the PBO and approval of these is now much simpler.
4) Rather than requiring individual water users to address depletion impacts to endangered species, under the PBO the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program continues to address the depletion effects while the SMP addresses the water-quality effects.
The recovery program encompasses the entire upper Colorado River Basin and is designed to support existing and future water use while providing for the recovery of endangered fish species. The recovery program does not address water-quality issues like selenium that affect endangered species, thus the need for a SMP in the Gunnison Basin.
5) Allows existing and future water uses in the basin to continue while proactively assisting in the recovery of endangered river fishes.
Gunnison Basin stakeholders/water users can continue their water operations and their depletions (federal projects and non-federal projects) and have ESA compliance. Water users have ESA compliance when the SMP is showing progress in meeting selenium reduction goals.
6) Helps connect water users with organizations that have information and funding for improving irrigation systems and crop production while helping the local economies; and may reduce operation and maintenance costs of irrigation systems and conserve water.
When irrigation system improvements are incorporated with other on-farm management practices, significant reductions in seepage and deep percolation can occur. In addition, studies show that when a producer incorporates irrigation system improvements in concert with enhanced irrigation water management, good soil health management practices, and good agronomic practices, the producer enjoys the benefits of improvements in crop quality, maximized yields, and reduced input costs which improves their bottom line [ Natural Resources Conservation Service and Colorado State University Extension, 2011 ].
Improving Irrigation Systems: In high salinity areas, programs such as the Reclamation’s Basinwide Salinity Control Program can provide up to 100 percent funding for implementing off-farm best management practices such as piping irrigation delivery systems (often salt is found in high selenium soils - therefore two pollutants can be addressed simultaneously). A piped irrigation system means there may be potential for development of pressurized deliveries and conversion to sprinkler systems, reduced operation and maintenance costs, and better quality water being provided to the farm. For more information about the Basinwide Salinity Program contact Reclamation’s Area Office in Grand Junction, Colo., (970-248-0600).
The Natural Resources Conservation Service has the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that provides incentive payments for on-farm improvements to qualifying agricultural producers. Additionally, the state of Colorado administers the Basin States Salinity Program and provides incentive payments for on-farm and smaller off-farm projects that reduce salinity loading. If you think you may have an eligible project contact your local NRCS office in Montrose (970-249-8407) or Delta (970-874-5726).
7) Facilitates ESA compliance for future Clean Water Act 404 permits, land use permits, or other regulatory approvals.
All federally issued permits require compliance with the ESA and obtaining permits is much simpler with the PBO in effect.
8) Improves water quality for many uses in Colorado and downstream.
By incorporating best management practices which minimize seepage and deep percolation of water through Mancos Shale soils, selenium loading into our local tributaries and rivers is reduced. Water-quality is improved for agriculture, fisheries, domestic needs and other uses.