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Salinity yield modeling of the Upper Colorado River Basin using 30-meter resolution soil maps and random forests

May 20, 2019

Salinity loading in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) costs local economies upwards of $300 million US dollars annually. Salinity source models have generally included coarse spatial data to represent non‐agriculture sources. We developed new predictive soil property and cover maps at 30 m resolution to improve source representation in salinity modeling. Salinity loading erosion risk indices were also created based on soil properties, remotely sensed bare ground exposure, and topographic factors to examine potential surface soil erosion drivers. These new maps and data from previous SPARROW models were related to recently updated records of salinity at 309 stream gauges in the UCRB using random forest regressions. Resulting salinity yield predictions indicate more diffuse salinity sources, with slightly higher yields in more arid portions of the UCRB, and less overall load coming from irrigated agricultural sources. Model simulations still indicate irrigation to be the major human source of salinity (661,000 Mg, or 12%), but also suggest that 75,000 Mg (1.4%) of annual salinity in the UCRB is coming from areas with excessive exposed bare ground in high elevation mountain areas. Model inputs allow for field scale screening of locations that could be targeted for salinity control projects. Results confirm recent studies indicating limited surface erosional influence on salinity loading in UCRB surface waters, but impacts of monsoonal runoff events are still not fully understood, particularly in drylands. The study highlights the utility of new predictive soil maps and machine learning for environmental modeling.

Publication Year 2019
Title Salinity yield modeling of the Upper Colorado River Basin using 30-meter resolution soil maps and random forests
DOI 10.1029/2018WR024054
Authors Travis Nauman, Christopher P. Ely, Matthew Miller, Michael Duniway
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Index ID 70205612
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center; Southwest Biological Science Center; Utah Water Science Center