CV-SALTS – Managing Salt and Nitrate in the California Central Valley

Salt Control Program Overview

Salt Accumulation: A Long-Term Threat to the Central Valley

The Central Valley (Valley) is the epicenter of California’s economy—encompassing 40% of the land in the state and providing water for people, agriculture, industry, and other businesses from San Francisco to San Diego, as well as food for California, the nation, and the world. Over the last 150 years, increased agricultural, industrial, and municipal activities, coupled with population growth, have resulted in significant increases in salts in soils, groundwater, and surface waters.

Normal activities in all homes, farms, businesses, cities, and towns contribute to the salt problem by adding or concentrating salts. Irrigation, food processing, municipal wastewater treatment and water management practices are just some of the water uses that influence the salt problem in the Central Valley. Salts are also added to or concentrated in parts of the Valley from importing and exporting water supplies.

The CV-SALTS Prioritization and Optimization (P&O) Study is a long-term effort to develop, plan and implement solutions for managing and controlling salt accumulation in the Valley. High levels of salt can impair water quality, reduce crop production, affect drinking water supplies, and alter ecological functions and habitats. Salt accumulations have resulted in approximately 250,000 acres being taken out of production and 1.5 million acres have been declared salinity impaired in the Valley. If not addressed, the future economic impacts of salts on the Valley could exceed $3 billion per year.

The Salt Control Program

The Salt Control Program was developed through the collaborative CV-SALTS Program (see About Us) and adopted into the Central Valley Water Quality Control Plans (often referred to as Basin Plans) to address the long-term problem of salt accumulation in the Valley. The program recognizes that salt accumulation and water uses vary widely across the Valley. The program approach is intended to protect beneficial uses by maintaining water quality that meets applicable objectives, allow some salt accumulation in areas where salt can be stored without impairing beneficial uses of water, and through long-term management, restore water quality where reasonable, feasible, and practicable.

The Basin Plans establish the P&O Study planning process to identify potential requirements that will protect beneficial uses, improve salt management, and restore water quality where possible. Over the next ten years (Phase 1), the P&O Study will characterize the salt conditions and trends in the Valley, identify salt management needs and mechanisms, evaluate the feasibility of potential solutions, prepare an implementation plan, and review and recommend revising salinity regulations as necessary.

Phase 1

10-15 years with interim permitting approach

P&O Study Development

Salt Permitting Options:
Individual Approach

Join P&O Study

Phase 2

Following Phase 1

Design and permitting of preferred salt management projects identified in Phase 1.

Salt Permitting Options:
Options will be developed in conjunction with P&O Study completion and development of Phase 2.

Phase 3

Following Phase 2

Construction of salt management projects identified in Phase 1.

Salt Permitting Options:
Unknown at this time.


From its inception through 2021, Central Valley Salinity Coalition (CVSC) members (permittees) have contributed more than $5.6 million to the development of the CV-SALTS program. The CVSC will raise $1.5 million or more per year for ten or more years to develop and manage the P&O Study. All permittees that discharge salt in the Central Valley and select the alternative salinity permitting approach pay a fee to support completion of study activities. CVSC receives payments and administers the study under a Memorandum of Agreement with the Central Valley Water Board and State Water Board. As of November 2021, more than 850 permittees and coalitions have joined the P&O Study and paid fees to support it.

Regulators and Study Governance