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Selenium and salinity are water-quality issues in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Certain water bodies in the lower Gunnison River Basin, including the lower Gunnison River and the Uncompahgre River, exceed the State standard for selenium of 5 micrograms per liter. Remediation methods to reduce selenium and salt loading in the lower Gunnison River Basin were examined. A demonstration project in Montrose Arroyo, located in the Uncompahgre River Basin near Montrose, was done during 1998-2000 to determine the effects on selenium and salt loads in Montrose Arroyo from replacing 8.5 miles of open-ditch irrigation laterals with 7.5 miles of pipe. The participants in the project were the National Irrigation Water Quality Program, the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The placing of five laterals in pipe significantly decreased selenium loads in Montrose Arroyo. The selenium load at the outflow monitoring site was about 194 pounds per year less (28-percent decrease) in the period after the laterals were placed in pipe. More than 90 percent of the decrease in selenium load was attributed to a decrease in ground-water load. Salt loads also decreased because of the lateral project, but by a smaller percentage than the selenium loads. The salt load at the outflow site on Montrose Arroyo was about 1,980 tons per year less in the post-project period than in the pre-project period. All of the effects of the demonstration project on selenium and salt loads probably were not measured by this study because some of the lateral leakage that was eliminated had not necessarily discharged to Montrose Arroyo upstream from the monitoring sites. A greater decrease in selenium loads relative to salt loads may have been partially the result of decreases in selenium concentrations in ground water in some areas.
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Effects of piping irrigation laterals on selenium and salt loads, Montrose Arroyo Basin, western Colorado