Commissioners agree to test the water | PostIndependent.com
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Commissioners agree to test the water

Salinity is a growing problem on the Colorado River as it wends its way through Garfield County. Tuesday, the Garfield County Commissioners agreed to pay $11,645 to help fund a water quality gauging station near New Castle that will help identify salt sources in that reach of the river.As it flows through the state of Colorado, the river picks up a significant amount of salt, chiefly from hot springs, irrigation runoff from agriculture and natural geologic features such as salt-rich shales. By the time the waters of the Colorado reach Mexico, they are so laden with salt they are a danger to crops.A good deal of that salt – between 400,000 and 500,000 tons annually – is dumped into the river between Dotsero and South Canyon, said Dave Merritt, chief engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs.”It’s a major loading point” on the river, he said.Salinity has been a growing problem in nearby communities that draw water from the Colorado such as New Castle, Silt and Rifle. The problem is especially noticeable in winter when river flows decrease.”The salt rate is constant,” Merritt said.Also of concern are the rising levels of selenium in the waters of the Colorado. In small amounts, naturally occurring selenium is a necessary nutrient in soil. In larger amounts, however, it can be toxic to fish and waterfowl, Merritt said.The state Water Quality Control Commission has added the tributaries of the river between South Canyon and Parachute to its list of waters impaired by selenium, he added.The commission “will have to determine if it is created by nature, if it’s at natural levels or if it’s exacerbated by man’s activities,” Merritt said. With the volume of waterways already on the list to be inspected, “it will take a while before the WQCC can get around to it.”While the U.S. Geological Survey has a number of monitoring stations on the Colorado, primarily to gauge stream flow along the river and its tributaries, there is a gap in water quality gauges between Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction.A water quality gauge near New Castle will help determine what accounts for changes in the total dissolved solids, a measurement of salt loading, in the river recorded at the Cameo gauging station on the west end of DeBeque Canyon near Grand Junction. The Cameo gauge has been monitoring water quality for 50 years and stream flow since 1933, Merritt said.Those changes could be due to “increased development, more people living on the land, oil and gas (development) or improving agricultural efficiencies,” Merritt said.The New Castle gauge is expected to cost $33,750, with USGS paying $10,500 and the river district splitting the rest with contributions from local government.County commissioners Larry McCown and John Martin – Commissioner Trési Houpt was off on vacation – supported the overall concept of increased monitoring of the river’s quality as well as the New Castle gauge.”It’s time to (do) this,” Martin said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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