Natural Resources Conservation Service Deep Percolation

Science Center Objects

The conversion of agricultural land to urban residential land is associated with rapid population growth in the Grand Valley of western Colorado. Information regarding the effects of this land-use conversion on deep percolation, irrigation-water application, and associated salt loading to the Colorado River is needed to support water-resource planning and conservation efforts.


The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) assessed deep percolation and estimated salt loading derived from irrigated agricultural lands in the Grand Valley in a 1985 to 2002 monitoring and evaluation study (NRCS M&E). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Colorado River Salinity Control Forum and the Mesa Conservation District, quantified the current (2005–2006) deep percolation and irrigation-water application characteristics of 1/4-acre residential lots and 5-acre estates, urban parks, and urban orchard grass fields in the Grand Valley, and compared the results to NRCS M&E results from alfalfa-crop sites. In addition, pond seepage from three irrigation-water holding ponds was estimated. Salt loading was estimated for the urban study results and the NRCS M&E results by using standard salt-loading factors.

A daily soil-moisture balance calculation technique was used at all urban study irrigated sites. Deep percolation was defined as any water infiltrating below the top 12 inches of soil. Deep percolation occurred when the soil-moisture balance in the first 12 inches of soil exceeded the field capacity for the soil type at each site. Results were reported separately for urban study bluegrass-only sites and for all-vegetation type (bluegrass, native plants, and orchard grass) sites. Deep percolation and irrigation-water application also were estimated for a complete irrigation season at three subdivisions by using mean site data from each subdivision. It was estimated that for the three subdivisions, 37 percent of the developed acreage was irrigated (the balance being impermeable surfaces).