Agricultural irrigation has a substantial impact on water quantity and quality in the lower Arkansas River valley of southeastern Colorado. A two-dimensional flow and solute transport model was used to evaluate the potential effects of changes in irrigation on the quantity and quality of water in the alluvial aquifer and in the Arkansas River along an 17.7 km reach of the fiver. The model was calibrated to aquifer water level and dissolved solids concentration data collected throughout the 24 year study period (197195). Two categories of irrigation management were simulated with the calibrated model: (1) a decrease in ground water withdrawals for irrigation; and (2) cessation of all irrigation from ground water and surface water sources. In the modeled category of decreased irrigation from ground water pumping, there was a resulting 6.9% decrease in the average monthly ground water salinity, a 0.6% decrease in average monthly river salinity, and an 11.1% increase in ground water return flows to the river. In the modeled category of the cessation of all irrigation, average monthly ground water salinity decreased by 25%; average monthly river salinity decreased by 4.4%; and ground water return flows to the river decreased by an average of 64%. In all scenarios, simulated ground water salinity decreased relative to historical conditions for about 12 years before reaching a new dynamic equilibrium condition. Aquifer water levels were not sensitive to any of the modeled scenarios. These potential changes in salinity could result in improved water quality for irrigation purposes downstream from the affected area.
Additional publication details
Simulated effects of irrigation on salinity in the Arkansas River Valley in Colorado