Salinity and selenium are naturally occurring and perva-sive in the lower Gunnison River Basin of Colorado, includ-ing the watershed of Montrose Arroyo. Although some of the salinity and selenium loading in the Montrose Arroyo study area is from natural sources, additional loading has resulted from the introduction of intensive irrigation in the water-shed. With increasing land-use change and the conversion from irrigated agricultural to urban land, land managers and stakeholders need information about the long-term effects of land-use change on salinity and selenium loading. In response to the need to advance salinity and selenium science, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum, and Colorado River Water Conservation District, developed a study to characterize salinity and selenium loading and how salinity and selenium sources may relate to land-use change in Montrose Arroyo. This report characterizes changes in salinity and selenium loading to Montrose Arroyo from March 1992 to February 2010 and the magnitude of land-use change between unirrigated desert, irrigated agricultural, and urban land-use/land-cover types, and discusses how the respective loads may relate to land-use change. Montrose Arroyo is an approximately 8-square-mile watershed in Montrose County in western Colorado. Salinity and selenium were studied in Montrose Arroyo in a 2001 study as part of a salinity- and selenium-control lateral project. The robust nature of the historical dataset indicated that Montrose Arroyo was a prime watershed for a follow-up study. Two sites from the 2001 study were used to monitor salinity and selenium loads in Montrose Arroyo in the follow-up study. Over the period of 2 water years and respective irrigation seasons (2008-2010), 27 water-quality samples were collected and streamflow measurements were made at the historical sites MA2 and MA4. Salinity and selenium concen-trations, loads, and streamflow were compared between the pre-lateral-project and post-growth periods and between the post-lateral-project and post-growth periods. No significant differences in streamflow, salinity (concen-tration and load), or selenium (concentration and load) were found at MA4 between the pre-lateral project and post-growth periods or between the post-lateral-project and post-growth periods. The statistical analysis indicated no significant dif-ferences in streamflow or salinity (both concentration and load) between the pre-lateral-project and post-growth periods or between the post-lateral-project and post-growth periods at MA2; however, selenium concentrations and loads were significantly greater between the pre-lateral-project and post-growth periods and between the post-lateral-project and post-growth periods at MA2. Land-use change between MA4 and MA2 may have contributed to the determined differences in selenium values, but the specific mechanisms causing the increases between periods are unknown. The size of the urbanized area in Montrose Arroyo was quantified for 1993, 2002, and 2009 by using a geographic information system (GIS) with imagery from the specified years. The greatest change in land use from 1993 to 2009 was the increase of urban land due to conversion from irrigated agricultural land. The conversion of previously unirrigated desert to urban land or irrigated agriculture could become more common if urbanization and development expands into the eastern part of the watershed because a majority of the un-urbanized land in eastern Montrose Arroyo is unirrigated desert. By applying GIS to the City of Montrose 2008 com-prehensive growth plan, it was estimated that approximately 786 acres of previously irrigated agricultural land will be converted to urban land and 689 acres of unirrigated desert will be converted to urban land under the plan scenario. New development on previously unirrigated land in shale areas would likely increase the potential for mobilization of sele-nium and salinity from new sources to Montrose Arroyo and the Lower Gunnison River Basin.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Characterization of salinity and selenium loading and land-use change in Montrose Arroyo, western Colorado, from 1992 to 2010