The Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) discharges more than 6 million tons of dissolved solids annually, about 40 to 45 percent of which are attributed to agricultural activities. The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates economic damages related to salinity in excess of $330 million annually in the Colorado River Basin. Salinity in the UCRB, as measured by dissolved-solids load and concentration, has been studied extensively during the past century. Over this period, a solid conceptual understanding of the sources and transport mechanisms of dissolved solids in the basin has been developed. This conceptual understanding was incorporated into the U.S. Geological Survey Spatially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes (SPARROW) surface-water quality model to examine statistically the dissolved-solids supply and transport within the UCRB. Geologic and agricultural sources of dissolved solids in the UCRB were defined and represented in the model. On the basis of climatic and hydrologic conditions along with data availability, water year 1991 was selected for examination with SPARROW.
Dissolved-solids loads for 218 monitoring sites were used to calibrate a dissolved-solids SPARROW model for the UCRB. The calibrated model generally captures the transport mechanisms that deliver dissolved solids to streams of the UCRB as evidenced by R2 and yield R2 values of 0.98 and 0.71, respectively. Model prediction error is approximated at 51 percent. Model results indicate that of the seven geologic source groups, the high-yield sedimentary Mesozoic rocks have the largest yield of dissolved solids, about 41.9 tons per square mile (tons/mi2). Irrigated sedimentary-clastic Mesozoic lands have an estimated yield of 1,180 tons/mi2, and irrigated sedimentary-clastic Tertiary lands have an estimated yield of 662 tons/mi2. Coefficients estimated for the seven landscape transport characteristics seem to agree well with the conceptual understanding of the role they play in the delivery of dissolved solids to streams in the UCRB.
Predictions of dissolved-solids loads were generated for more than 10,000 stream reaches of the stream network defined in the UCRB. From these estimates, the downstream accumulation of dissolved solids, including natural and agricultural components, were examined in selected rivers. Contributions from each of the 11 dissolved-solids sources were also examined at select locations in the Grand, Green, and San Juan Divisions of the UCRB. At the downstream boundary of the UCRB, the Colorado River at Lees Ferry, Arizona, monitoring site, the dissolved-solids contribution of irrigated agricultural lands and natural sources were about 45 and 57 percent, respectively. Finally, model predictions, including the contributions of natural and agricultural sources for selected locations in the UCRB, were compared with results from two previous studies.
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USGS Numbered Series
Spatially Referenced Statistical Assessment of Dissolved-Solids Load Sources and Transport in Streams of the Upper Colorado River Basin