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Enhanced and updated spatially referenced statistical assessment of dissolved-solids load sources and transport in streams of the Upper Colorado River Basin

March 7, 2017

Approximately 6.4 million tons of dissolved solids are discharged from the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) to the Lower Colorado River Basin each year. This results in substantial economic damages, and tens of millions of dollars are spent annually on salinity control projects designed to reduce salinity loads in surface waters of the UCRB. Dissolved solids in surface water and groundwater have been studied extensively over the past century, and these studies have contributed to a conceptual understanding of sources and transport of dissolved solids. This conceptual understanding was incorporated into a Spatially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes (SPARROW) model to examine sources and transport of dissolved solids in the UCRB. The results of this model were published in 2009. The present report documents the methods and data used to develop an updated dissolved-solids SPARROW model for the UCRB, and incorporates data defining current basin attributes not available in the previous model, including delineation of irrigated lands by irrigation type (sprinkler or flood irrigation), and calibration data from additional monitoring sites.

Dissolved-solids loads estimated for 312 monitoring sites were used to calibrate the SPARROW model, which predicted loads for each of 10,789 stream reaches in the UCRB. The calibrated model provided a good fit to the calibration data as evidenced by R2 and yield R2 values of 0.96 and 0.73, respectively, and a root-mean-square error of 0.47. The model included seven geologic sources that have estimated dissolved-solids yields ranging from approximately 1 to 45 tons per square mile (tons/mi2). Yields generated from irrigated agricultural lands are substantially greater than those from geologic sources, with sprinkler irrigated lands generating an average of approximately 150 tons/mi2 and flood irrigated lands generating between 770 and 2,300 tons/mi2 depending on underlying lithology. The coefficients estimated for six landscape transport characteristics that influence the delivery of dissolved solids from sources to streams, are consistent with the process understanding of dissolved-solids loading to streams in the UCRB.

Dissolved-solids loads and the proportion of those loads among sources in the entire UCRB as well as in major tributaries in the basin are reported, as are loads generated from irrigated lands, rangelands, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, and grazing allotments on BLM lands. Model-predicted loads also are compared with load estimates from 1957 and 1991 at selected locations in three divisions of the UCRB. At the basin scale, the model estimates that 32 percent of the dissolved-solids loads are from irrigated agricultural land sources that compose less than 2 percent of the land area in the UCRB. This estimate is less than previously reported estimates of 40 to 45 percent of basin-scale dissolved-solids loads from irrigated agricultural land sources. This discrepancy could be a result of the implementation of salinity control projects in the basin. Notably, results indicate that the conversion of flood irrigated agricultural lands to sprinkler irrigated agricultural lands is a likely process contributing to the temporal decrease in dissolved-solids loads from irrigated lands.

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