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Updated estimates of long-term average dissolved-solids loading in streams and rivers of the Upper Colorado River Basin

August 6, 2014

The Colorado River and its tributaries supply water to more than 35 million people in the United States and 3 million people in Mexico, irrigating over 4.5 million acres of farmland, and annually generating about 12 billion kilowatt hours of hydroelectric power. The Upper Colorado River Basin, part of the Colorado River Basin, encompasses more than 110,000 mi2 and is the source of much of more than 9 million tons of dissolved solids that annually flows past the Hoover Dam. High dissolved-solids concentrations in the river are the cause of substantial economic damages to users, primarily in reduced agricultural crop yields and corrosion, with damages estimated to be greater than 300 million dollars annually. In 1974, the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act created the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program to investigate and implement a broad range of salinity control measures. A 2009 study by the U.S. Geological Survey, supported by the Salinity Control Program, used the Spatially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes surface-water quality model to examine dissolved-solids supply and transport within the Upper Colorado River Basin. Dissolved-solids loads developed for 218 monitoring sites were used to calibrate the 2009 Upper Colorado River Basin Spatially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes dissolved-solids model. This study updates and develops new dissolved-solids loading estimates for 323 Upper Colorado River Basin monitoring sites using streamflow and dissolved-solids concentration data through 2012, to support a planned Spatially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes modeling effort that will investigate the contributions to dissolved-solids loads from irrigation and rangeland practices.