Annual and monthly concentrations and loads of dissolved solids and major constituents were estimated for 70 streamflow-gaging stations in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Trends in streamflow, dissolved-solids concentrations, and dissolved-solids loads were identified. Nonparametric trend-analysis techniques were used to determine step trends resulting from human activities upstream and long-term monotonic trends. Results were compared with physical characteristics of the basin and historical water-resource development in the basin to determine source areas of dissolved solids and possible cause of trends.
Mean annual dissolved-solids concentration increases from less than 100 milligrams per liter in the headwater streams to more than 500 milligrams per liter in the outflow from the Upper Colorado River Basin. All the major tributaries that have high concentrations of dissolved solids are downstream from extensive areas of irrigated agriculture. However, irrigation predated the period of record for most sites and was not a factor in many identified trends. Significant annual trends were identified for 30 sites. Most of these trends were related to transbasin exports, changes in land use, salinity-control practices, or reservoir development. The primary factor affecting streamflow and dissolved-solids concentration and load has been the construction of large reservoirs. Reservoirs have decreased the seasonal and annual variability of streamflow and dissolved solids in streams that drain the Gunnison and San Juan River basins. Fontenelle and Flaming Gorge Reservoirs have increased the dissolved-solids load in the Green River because of dissolution of mineral salts from the bank material. The largest trends occurred downstream from Lake Powell. However, the period of record since the completion of filling was too short to estimate the long-term effects of that reservoir.