Selenium concentrations in certain water bodies in the lower Gunnison River Basin, including the lower Gunnison River and lower Uncompahgre River, have exceeded the Colorado water-quality standard of 5 micrograms per liter for selenium. A task force was formed in 1998 that consists of various government agencies, private irrigation companies, and local residents to address the selenium concerns in the lower Gunnison River Basin. The task force, working with the National Irrigation Water Quality Program, needed more detailed information on selenium loading in the basin to develop viable alternatives for remediating selenium in the lower Gunnison River Basin.
In 1999-2000, the U.S. Geological Survey collected selenium data for tributaries of the Gunnison River downstream from the North Fork of the Gunnison and in the North Fork Basin. The largest selenium load in a tributary stream was in the Uncompahgre River, which accounted for about 38 percent of the selenium load in the Gunnison River at Whitewater. The North Fork of the Gunnison River accounted for about 7 percent of the selenium load in the Gunnison River. Two tributaries east of Delta, Sunflower Drain and Bonafide Ditch, consist primarily of irrigation return flows and were other major selenium sources to the Gunnison River.
Some tributaries in the lower North Fork Basin had selenium concentrations exceeding 5 micrograms per liter. Except for several streams draining the Uncompahgre Plateau, many tributaries to the Gunnison River downstream from the North Fork had selenium concentrations exceeding 5 micrograms per liter. Except during occasional rain and snowmelt events, selenium loading from nonirrigated desert areas was minimal.
Detailed characterization studies were done in 1999-2000 on Cedar Creek and Loutzenhizer Arroyo, which contribute the largest tributary selenium loads to the Uncompahgre River. Selenium concentrations in Cedar Creek downstream from Miguel Road ranged from 12 to 28 micrograms per liter in November 1999. Montrose Arroyo was the largest selenium source to Cedar Creek. On an annual basis, about 20 percent of the selenium load in Cedar Creek originates in the basin upstream from Miguel Road.
Selenium concentrations in Loutzenhizer Arroyo ranged from 157 to 347 micrograms per liter in February 2000. A significant increase in selenium concentrations occurred in the stream reach between the Selig Canal and Falcon Road (LZU7). Although selenium concentrations in the west tributary of Loutzenhizer Arroyo were lower than in the main stem, the west tributary contributed about 41 percent of the selenium load. Downstream from the confluence with the west tributary to the mouth, selenium concentrations in the arroyo gradually decreased, and the increase in selenium load in the lower reach was small.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Characterization of selenium in the lower Gunnison River basin, Colorado, 1988-2000