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Region 6 Environmental Contaminants

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A Success Story In The Making:
Selenium Reduction In The Upper Colorado River, Lower Gunnison Basin

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. Geological Survey.

photo of an existing unlined earthen lateral
Existing unlined earthen lateral before piping.

photo of a pipe being placed in the ground
Pipe being placed in the ground.

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 Force’s web site (http:/// explains their mission, efforts and activities.
Photo of Pam being sprayed in a canal Photo of Pam being sprayed in a canal
photo of the truck used to spray Pam Photo of Pam being sprayed in a canal
Photos showing Pam being sprayed onto the canals when they are dry prior to turning the irrigation water in.

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