The role of baseflow in dissolved solids delivery to streams in the Upper Colorado River Basin

Hydrological Processes
By: , and 
Edited by: Gregory SchwarzRobert M. Hirsch, and David Susong

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Abstract

Salinity has a major effect on water users in the Colorado River Basin, estimated to cause almost $300 million per year in economic damages. The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program implements and manages projects to reduce salinity loads, investing millions of dollars per year in irrigation upgrades, canal projects, and other mitigation strategies. To inform and improve mitigation efforts, there is a need to better understand sources of salinity to streams and how salinity has changed over time. This study explores salinity in the baseflow fraction of streamflow, assessing whether groundwater is a significant contributor of dissolved solids to streams in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB). Chemical hydrograph separation was used to estimate baseflow discharge and baseflow dissolved solids loads at stream gages (n = 69) across the UCRB. On average, it is estimated that 89% of dissolved solids loads originate from the baseflow fraction of streamflow, indicating that subsurface transport processes play a dominant role in delivering dissolved solids to streams in the UCRB. A statistical trend analysis using weighted regressions on time, discharge, and season was used to evaluate changes in baseflow dissolved solids loads in streams (n = 27) from 1986 to 2011. Decreasing trends in baseflow dissolved solids loads were observed at 63% of streams. At the three most downstream sites, Green River at Green River, UT, Colorado River at Cisco, UT, and the San Juan River near Bluff, UT, baseflow dissolved solids loads decreased by a combined 823,000 metric tons (mT), which is approximately 69% of projected basin‐scale decreases in total dissolved solids loads as a result of salinity control efforts. Decreasing trends in baseflow dissolved solids loads suggest that salinity mitigation projects, landscape changes, and/or climate are reducing dissolved solids transported to streams through the subsurface. Notably, the pace and extent of decreases in baseflow dissolved solids loads declined during the most recent decade; average decreasing loads during the 2000s (28,200 mT) were only 54% of average decreasing loads in the 1990s (51,700 mT).

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The role of baseflow in dissolved solids delivery to streams in the Upper Colorado River Basin
Series title Hydrological Processes
DOI 10.1002/hyp.11390
Volume 31
Issue 26
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Utah Water Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 4705
Last page 4718
Country United States
Other Geospatial Upper Colorado River Basin