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Assessment of dissolved-solids loading to the Colorado River in the Paradox Basin between the Dolores River and Gypsum Canyon, Utah

April 28, 2014

Salinity loads throughout the Colorado River Basin have been a concern over recent decades due to adverse impacts on population, natural resources, and regional economics. With substantial financial resources and various reclamation projects, the salt loading to Lake Powell and associated total dissolved-solids concentrations in the Lower Colorado River Basin have been substantially reduced. The Colorado River between its confluence with the Dolores River and Lake Powell traverses a physiographic area where saline sedimentary formations and evaporite deposits are prevalent. However, the dissolved-solids loading in this area is poorly understood due to the paucity of water-quality data. From 2003 to 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation conducted four synoptic sampling events to quantify the salinity loading throughout the study reach and evaluate the occurrence and impacts of both natural and anthropogenic sources. The results from this study indicate that under late-summer base-flow conditions, dissolved-solids loading in the reach is negligible with the exception of the Green River, and that variations in calculated loads between synoptic sampling events are within measurement and analytical uncertainties. The Green River contributed approximately 22 percent of the Colorado River dissolved-solids load, based on samples collected at the lower end of the study reach. These conclusions are supported by water-quality analyses for chloride and bromide, and the results of analyses for the stable isotopes of oxygen and deuterium. Overall, no significant sources of dissolved-solids loading from tributaries or directly by groundwater discharge, with the exception of the Green River, were identified in the study area.

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