Department of Interior National Irrigation Water Quality Program (NIWQP),
investigations into problems caused by irrigation drainage from large irrigation projects
in the Uncompahgre and Grand Valley in western Colorado revealed selenium loading into the
Uncompahgre, Gunnison and Colorado rivers resulting in exceedances of water quality
criterion. General Area Map
Biologists suspect the selenium is causing reproductive failure in both fish and birds
inhabiting the study area. Research conducted by Dr. Steve Hamilton (Environmental and
Contaminants Research Center) suggests that selenium is adversely affecting reproduction
and recruitment of endangered razorback suckers.
The EC Program at the Grand Junction, CO field office have worked in partnership with
the NIWQP, other state and federal agencies, local governments and private landowners to
resolve selenium contamination resulting from irrigation drainwater. Within the Scope of
the NIWQP, the EC Program at the Grand Junction field office is actively involved in work
with selenium and its impact on fish and wildlife resources in the Uncompahgre, Gunnison
and upper Colorado River basins. Most recently the NIWQP assisted with installing 8 miles
of piped lateral to replace an existing earthen lateral system which provides water to
farmers in the Uncompahgre basin. Preliminary results have shown up to a 40% reduction in
selenium loading within the affected basin from this project! These results indicate a far
greater reduction in selenium loading than was predicted. Monitoring will continue to
determine if this reduction in selenium loading will continue.
The EC staff is involved with the NIWQP Gunnison-Grand Valley Core Team, an interagency
team which also includes staff from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S.
Existing unlined earthen
lateral before piping.
Pipe being placed in the
|The Core Team has worked with the Gunnison Basin Selenium Task Force, and
development of Best Management Practices and remediation alternatives. The Selenium Task
Force is a local grass roots organization, established in the Uncompahgre basin to explore
options for reducing selenium loads into the Uncompahgre River to meet state water quality
standards. To date, the Task Force has received over $638,000 in grants and matching funds
aimed at selenium reduction. On-going Task Force projects include: an effort to determine
other source areas for selenium contamination, a phytoremediation project using poplar
trees, and monitoring the effects of land use conversion on selenium loading (i.e.
conversion of irrigated and non-irrigated lands to subdivisions). The task force has been
very active with education and outreach, including bringing in renowned experts to talk to
the local water users about other geographic areas with high selenium problems and
potential solutions. The Task Forces web site (http:///www.seleniumtaskforce.org)
explains their mission, efforts and activities.