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Calcite precipitation in Lake Powell reduces alkalinity and total salt loading to the Lower Colorado River Basin

January 10, 2020

Reservoirs can retain and transform carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and silica, but less is known about their effects on other biogeochemically relevant solutes. The salinization of freshwater ecosystems is a growing concern in many regions, and the role of reservoirs in salinity transport is an important research frontier. Here, we examine how a large desert southwest reservoir, Lake Powell, has altered the downstream transport of total dissolved solids (TDSs) as well as the dominant cations and anions comprising the TDS pool (, , and Ca2+). Average downstream TDS concentrations have declined significantly since river impoundment and seasonal fluctuations in TDS concentrations have become more modulated, but year to year variation in TDS concentrations has remained similar. While some of the reductions in TDS concentration can be attributed to watershed management, we find that Lake Powell retains about 10% of the TDS loaded to the system (1991 Mg TDS d−1). Much of this retention is occurring in the forms of calcium and bicarbonate, likely via calcite precipitation, and is equivalent to an average burial of 522 mg C m−2 d−1, thus reducing the alkalinity of downstream water. Flow‐weighted modeling suggests that, in the absence of Lake Powell, downstream salinity limits would be surpassed at the outflow to Lake Powell 41% of the time (vs. 0% of the time currently). Understanding the dominant mechanisms regulating solute transport through the reservoir is important given the relevance for downstream drinking water and irrigation concerns, biogeochemical cycling, and the high potential for reduced flows in the future.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Calcite precipitation in Lake Powell reduces alkalinity and total salt loading to the Lower Colorado River Basin
DOI 10.1002/lno.11399
Authors Bridget Deemer, Edward G. Stets, Charles B. Yackulic
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Limnology and Oceanography
Series Number
Index ID 70209414
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center