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Assessment of salinity retention or mobilization by sediment-retention ponds near Delta, Colorado, 2019

July 10, 2023

Salinity control efforts in the Colorado River Basin have focused on mobilization of salts from irrigated land, but nonirrigated rangelands are also a source of salinity. In particular, lands where soils have formed from the Late Cretaceous Mancos Shale under arid and semiarid climates contain considerable quantities of salt, mainly in the subsurface. Hundreds of thousands of contour furrows and check dams (gully plugs) were constructed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Bureau of Reclamation in the late 1950s and 1960s to reduce runoff, sedimentation, and salt mobilization from ephemeral stream channels on rangelands. Sediment-retention ponds associated with check dams are dry most of the year, except immediately following substantial rain events. Generally, no maintenance has been performed on these structures, some have degraded over time, and their current and past influence on salinity is poorly understood. To assess the influence of check dams and their associated ponds on salt retention and mobilization, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the BLM, conducted a study of such ponds within the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area (GGNCA) near Delta, Colorado.

This report includes conceptual models of how sediment-retention ponds function relative to salinity, and a collection of environmental data to evaluate the conceptual models. An inventory of 69 ponds indicated that 38 percent no longer had water holding capacity, and another 20 percent could hold 1 foot or less of water. Check-dam degradation was the main cause, but sediment infill of ponds contributed as well. Water content of soil profiles collected beneath ponds and immediately downstream from check dams indicated little penetration of water below 60 centimeters for most ponds and little evidence for lateral movement of water beneath check dams. Patterns of salt content in the soil profiles indicated no accumulation of salts at the pond surface from evaporating waters and little evidence for salt redistribution in the form of salt bulges or salt depletion curves at intermediate depths. Based on the conceptual models presented and interpretations of data collected by this study, it appears that the sediment-retention ponds in the GGNCA have neither mobilized nor retained substantial quantities of salt during their lifetimes.

Publication Year 2023
Title Assessment of salinity retention or mobilization by sediment-retention ponds near Delta, Colorado, 2019
DOI 10.3133/sir20235071
Authors Rodney J. Richards, Carleton R. Bern, Victoria Moreno
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5071
Index ID sir20235071
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Colorado Water Science Center