The Republican River Basin of Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas lies in a valley which contains Pierre Shale as part of its geological substrata. Selenium is an indigenous constituent in the shale and is readily leached into surrounding groundwater. The Basin is heavily irrigated through the pumping of groundwater, some of which is selenium-contaminated, onto fields in agricultural production. Water, sediment, benthic invertebrates, and/or fish were collected from 46 sites in the Basin and were analyzed for selenium to determine the potential for food-chain bioaccumulation, dietary toxicity, and reproductive effects of selenium in biota. Resulting selenium concentrations were compared to published guidelines or biological effects thresholds. Water from 38% of the sites (n = 18) contained selenium concentrations exceeding 5 ??g L-1, which is reported to be a high hazard for selenium accumulation into the planktonic food chain. An additional 12 sites (26% of the sites) contained selenium in water between 3-5 ??g L-1, constituting a moderate hazard. Selenium concentrations in sediment indicated little to no hazard for selenium accumulation from sediments into the benthic food chain. Ninety-five percent of benthic invertebrates collected exhibited selenium concentrations exceeding 3 ??g g-1, a level reported as potentially lethal to fish and birds that consume them. Seventy-five percent of fish collected in 1997, 90% in 1998, and 64% in 1999 exceeded 4 ??g g-1 selenium, indicating a high potential for toxicity and reproductive effects. However, examination of weight profiles of various species of collected individual fish suggested successful recruitment in spite of selenium concentrations that exceeded published biological effects thresholds for health and reproductive success. This finding suggested that universal application of published guidelines for selenium may be inappropriate or at least may need refinement for systems similar to the Republican River Basin. Additional research is needed to determine the true impact of selenium on fish and wildlife resources in the Basin.
Additional publication details
An evaluation of selenium concentrations in water, sediment, invertebrates, and fish from the Republican River Basin: 1997-1999