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Estimated dissolved-solids loads and trends at selected streams in and near the Uinta Basin, Utah, Water Years 1989–2013

March 23, 2017

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum, studied trends in dissolved-solids loads at selected sites in and near the Uinta Basin, Utah. The Uinta Basin study area includes the Duchesne River Basin and the Middle Green River Basin in Utah from below Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the town of Green River.

Annual dissolved-solids loads for water years (WY) 1989 through 2013 were estimated for 16 gaging stations in the study area using streamflow and water-quality data from the USGS National Water Information System database. Eight gaging stations that monitored catchments with limited or no agricultural land use (natural subbasins) were used to assess loads from natural sources. Four gaging stations that monitored catchments with agricultural land in the Duchesne River Basin were used to assess loads from agricultural sources. Four other gaging stations were included in the dissolved-solids load and trend analysis to help assess the effects of agricultural areas that drain to the Green River in the Uinta Basin, but outside of the Duchesne River Basin.

Estimated mean annual dissolved-solids loads for WY 1989–2013 ranged from 1,520 tons at Lake Fork River above Moon Lake, near Mountain Home, Utah (UT), to 1,760,000 tons at Green River near Green River, UT. The flow-normalized loads at gaging stations upstream of agricultural activities showed no trend or a relatively small change. The largest net change in modeled flow-normalized load was -352,000 tons (a 17.8-percent decrease) at Green River near Green River, UT.
Annual streamflow and modeled dissolved-solids loads at the gaging stations were balanced between upstream and downstream sites to determine how much water and dissolved solids were transported to the Duchesne River and a section of the Green River, and how much was picked up in each drainage area. Mass-balance calculations of WY 1989–2013 mean annual dissolved-solids loads at the studied sites show that Green River near Jensen, UT, accounts for 64 percent of the load in the river at Green River, UT, while the Duchesne River and White River contribute 10 and 13 percent, respectively.

Annual streamflow and modeled dissolved-solids loads at the gaging stations were balanced between upstream and downstream sites to determine how much water and dissolved solids were transported to the Duchesne River and a section of the Green River, and how much was picked up in each drainage area. Mass-balance calculations of WY 1989–2013 mean annual dissolved-solids loads at the studied sites show that Green River near Jensen, UT, accounts for 64 percent of the load in the river at Green River, UT, while the Duchesne River and White River contribute 10 and 13 percent, respectively.

The flow-normalized dissolved-solids loads estimated at Duchesne River near Randlett, UT, and White River near Watson, UT, decreased by 68,000 and 55,300 tons, or 27.8 and 20.8 percent respectively, when comparing 1989 to 2013. The drainage basins for both rivers have undergone salinity-control projects since the early 1980s to reduce the dissolved-solids load entering the Colorado River. Approximately 19 percent of the net change in flow-normalized load at Green River at Green River, UT, is from changes in load modeled at Duchesne River near Randlett, UT, and 16 percent from changes in load modeled at White River near Watson, UT. The net change in flow-normalized load estimated at Green River near Greendale, UT, for WY 1989–2013 accounts for about 45 percent of the net change estimated at Green River at Green River, UT.

Mass-balance calculations of WY 1989–2013 mean annual dissolved-solids loads at the studied sites in the Duchesne River Basin show that 75,400 tons or 44 percent of the load at the Duchesne River near Randlett, UT, gaging station was not accounted for at any of the upstream gages. Most of this unmonitored load is derived from tributary inflow, groundwater discharge, unconsumed irrigation water, and irrigation tail water.

A mass balance of WY 1989–2013 flow-normalized loads estimated at sites in the Duchesne River Basin indicates that the flow-normalized load of unmonitored inflow to the Duchesne River between the Myton and Randlett gaging stations decreased by 38 percent. The total net decrease in flow-normalized load calculated for unmonitored inflow in the drainage basin accounts for 94 percent of the decrease in WY 1989–2013 flow-normalized load modeled at the Duchesne River near Randlett, UT, gaging station. Irrigation improvements in the drainage basin have likely contributed to the decrease in flow-normalized load.

Reductions in dissolved-solids load estimated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) from on- and off-farm improvements in the Uinta Basin totaled about 135,000 tons in 2013 (81,900 tons from on-farm improvements and 53,300 tons from off-farm improvements). The reduction in dissolved-solids load resulting from on- and off-farm improvements facilitated by the NRCS and Reclamation in the Price River Basin from 1989 to 2013 was estimated to be 64,800 tons.

The amount of sprinkler-irrigated land mapped in the drainage area or subbasin area for a gaging station was used to estimate the reduction in load resulting from the conversion from flood to sprinkler irrigation. Sprinkler-irrigated land mapped in the Uinta Basin totaled 109,630 acres in 2012. Assuming conversion to wheel-line sprinklers, a reduction in dissolved-solids load in the Uinta Basin of 95,800 tons in 2012 was calculated using the sprinkler-irrigation acreage and a pre-salinity-control project dissolved-solids yield of 1.04 tons per acre.

A reduction of 72,800 tons in dissolved-solids load from irrigation improvements was determined from sprinkler-irrigated lands in the Ashley Valley and Jensen, Pelican Lake, and Pleasant Valley areas (mapped in 2012); and in the Price River Basin (mapped in 2011). This decrease in dissolved-solids load is 8,800 tons more than the decrease in unmonitored flow-normalized dissolved-solids load (-64,000 tons) determined for the Green River between the Jensen and Green River gaging stations.

The net WY 1989–2013 change in flow-normalized dissolved-solids load at the Duchesne River near Randlett, UT, and the Green River between the Jensen and Green River, UT, gaging stations determined from mass-balance calculations was compared to reported reductions in dissolved-solids load from on- and off-farm improvements and estimated reductions in load determined from mapped sprinkler-irrigated areas in the Duchesne River Basin and the area draining to the Green River between the Jensen and Green River gaging stations. The combined NRCS and Reclamation estimates of reduction in dissolved-solids load from on- and off-farm improvements in the study area (200,000 tons) is more than the reduction in load estimated using the acreage with sprinkler improvements (136,000 tons) or the mass-balance of flow-normalized load (132,000 tons).

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