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Detailed study of selenium and other constituents in water, bottom sediment, soil, alfalfa, and biota associated with irrigation drainage in the Uncompahgre Project area and in the Grand Valley, west-central Colorado, 1991-93

Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4138

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Abstract

In 1985, the U.S. Department of the Interior began a program to study the effects of irrigation drainage in the Western United States. These studies were done to determine whether irrigation drainage was causing problems related to human health, water quality, and fish and wildlife resources. Results of a study in 1991-93 of irrigation drainage associated with the Uncompahgre Project area, located in the lower Gunnison River Basin, and of the Grand Valley, located along the Colorado River, are described in this report. The focus of the report is on the sources, distribution, movement, and fate of selenium in the hydrologic and biological systems and the effects on biota. Generally, other trace- constituent concentrations in water and biota were not elevated or were not at levels of concern. Soils in the Uncompahgre Project area that primarily were derived from Mancos Shale contained the highest concentrations of total and watrer-extractable selenium. Only 5 of 128\x11alfalfa samples had selenium concentrations that exceeded a recommended dietary limit for livestock. Selenium data for soil and alfalfa indicate that irrigation might be mobilizing and redistributing selenium in the Uncompahgre Project area. Distribution of dissolved selenium in ground water is affected by the aqueous geochemical environment of the shallow ground- water system. Selenium concentrations were as high as 1,300\x11micrograms per liter in water from shallow wells. The highest concentrations of dissolved selenium were in water from wells completed in alluvium overlying the Mancos Shale of Cretaceous age; selenium concentrations were lower in water from wells completed in Mancos Shale residuum. Selenium in the study area could be mobilized by oxidation of reduced selenium, desorption from aquifer sediments, ion exchange, and dissolution. Infiltration of irrigation water and, perhaps nitrate, provide oxidizing conditions for mobilization of selenium from alluvium and shale residuum and for transport to streams and irrigation drains that are tributary to the Gunnison, Uncompahgre, and Colorado Rivers. Selenium concentrations in about 64\x11percent of water samples collected from the lower Gunnison River and about 50 percent of samples from the Colorado River near the Colorado-Utah State line exceeded the U.S.\x11Environmental Protection Agency criterion of 5\x11micrograms per liter for protection of aquatic life. Almost all selenium concentrations in samples collected during the nonirrigation season from Mancos Shale areas exceeded the aquatic-life criterion. The maximum selenium concentrations in surface-water samples were 600\x11micrograms per liter in the Uncompahgre Project area and 380\x11micrograms per liter in the Grand Valley. Irrigation drainage from the Uncompahgre Project and the Grand Valley might account for as much as 75 percent of the selenium load in the Colorado River near the Colorado-Utah State line. The primary source areas of selenium were the eastern side of the Uncompahgre Project and the western one-half of the Grand Valley, where there is extensive irrigation on soils derived from Mancos Shale. The largest mean selenium loads from tributary drainages were 14.0 pounds per day from Loutsenhizer Arroyo in the Uncompahgre Project and 12.8 pounds per day from Reed Wash in the Grand Valley. Positive correlations between selenium loads and dissolved-solids loads could indicate that salinity-control projects designed to decrease dissolved-solids loads also could decrease selenium loads from the irrigated areas. Selenium concentrations in irrigation drainage in the Grand Valley were much higher than concentrations predicted by simple evaporative concentration of irrigation source water. Selenium probably is removed from pond water by chemical and biological processes and incorporated into bottom sediment. The maximum selenium concentration in bottom sediment was 47 micrograms per gram from a pond on the eastern side of the

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Detailed study of selenium and other constituents in water, bottom sediment, soil, alfalfa, and biota associated with irrigation drainage in the Uncompahgre Project area and in the Grand Valley, west-central Colorado, 1991-93
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
96-4138
Edition:
-
Year Published:
1996
Language:
ENGLISH
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey ; Branch of Information Services [distributor],
Description:
ix, 136 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm.