The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) studied contamination induced by irrigation drainage in 26 areas of the Western United States during 1986-95. Comprehensive compilation, synthesis, and evaluation of the data resulting from these studies were initiated by DOI in 1992. Soils and ground water in irrigated areas of the West can contain high concentrations of selenium because of (1) residual selenium from the soil's parent rock beneath irrigated land; (2) selenium derived from rocks in mountains upland from irrigated land by erosion and transport along local drainages, and (3) selenium brought into the area in surface water imported for irrigation. Application of irrigation water to seleniferous soils can dissolve and mobilize selenium and create hydraulic gradients that cause the discharge of seleniferous ground water into irrigation drains. Given a source of selenium, the magnitude of selenium contamination in drainage-affected aquatic ecosystems is strongly related to the aridity of the area and the presence of terminal lakes and ponds. Marine sedimentary rocks and deposits of Late Cretaceous or Tertiary age are generally seleniferous in the Western United States. Depending on their origin and history, some Tertiary continental sedimentary deposits also are seleniferous. Irrigation of areas associated with these rocks and deposits can result in concentrations of selenium in water that exceed criteria for the protection of freshwater aquatic life.
Geologic and climatic data for the Western United States were evaluated and incorporated into a geographic information system (GIS) to produce a map identifying areas susceptible to irrigation-induced selenium contamination. Land is considered susceptible where a geologic source of selenium is in or near the area and where the evaporation rate is more than 2.5 times the precipitation rate. In the Western United States, about 160,000 square miles of land, which includes about 4,100 square miles (2.6 million acres) of land irrigated for agriculture, has been identified as being susceptible. Biological data were used to evaluate the reliability of the map. In 12 of DOI's 26 study areas, concentrations of selenium measured in bird eggs were elevated sufficiently to significantly reduce hatchability of the eggs. The GIS map identifies 9 of those 12 areas. Deformed bird embryos having classic symptoms of selenium toxicosis were found in four of the study areas, and the map identifies all four as susceptible to irrigation-induced selenium contamination. The report describes the geography, geology, and ground-water resources of the Dutch Flats area in Scotts Bluff and Sioux Counties, Nebr. The area comprises about 60 square miles and consists predominantly of relatively flat-lying terraces. Farming is the principal occupation in the area. The farm lands are irrigated largely from surface water; ground water is used only as a supplementary supply during drought periods. The climate in the area is semiarid, and the mean annual precipitation is about 16 inches.
The rocks exposed in the Dutch Flats area are of Tertiary sad Quaternary age. A map showing the areas of outcrop of the rock formations is included in the report. Sufficient unconfined ground water for irrigation supplies is contained in the deposits of the .third terrace, and wells that yield 1,000 to 2,000 gallons a minute probably could be developed.
The depth to water in the area ranges from a few feet to about 80 feet sad averages about 30 feet. The depth to water varies throughout the year; it is least in the late summer when the recharge from irrigation is greatest, sad it is greatest in the early spring before irrigation is begun. A map showing the depth to water in September 1949 is included in the report.
The ground-water reservoir is recharged by seepage from irrigation canals and laterals, by seepage from irrigation water applied to the farms, and, to a much lesser extent, by precipitation. In the area b