Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Wednesday that the Bureau of Reclamation will award grants totaling more than $11.1 million to irrigation companies in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming to fund salinity control projects within the Upper Colorado River Basin.

The federal stimulus money kicks loose an additional $4.8 million in water district funds that will help control nearly 12,000 tons of salt loading from occurring that would otherwise enter the Colorado River system.

"These grants, and the cost-sharing funds, mean controlling salt at its source to prevent it from entering the Colorado River system," Salazar said. "This is a major step forward in reversing the significant damages salinity causes each year to agricultural and municipal water delivery and conveyance systems in the Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada."

Historically, there has been approximately 9 million tons of salt loading to the Colorado River annually. About one half can be attributed to natural sources such as erosion of lands and saline springs. The remainder is human-induced, originating from irrigation practices and municipal and industrial sources.

These projects will benefit water users by constructing pipelines and related infrastructure providing a more efficient water supply, according to a press release.

Three of the five grant recipients are in Utah: Huntington Cleveland Irrigation Company, Emery County, $2.1 million; Red Cap Lake Fork Irrigation Company, Duchesne, $1.8 million; and Peoples Canal Company, Manila, Daggett County, $5 million.

— Amy Joi O'Donoghue