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Vegetation Canopy Cover Effects on Sediment and Salinity Loading in the Upper Colorado River Basin Mancos Shale Formation, Price, Utah
AdvisorMcGwire, Kenneth C.
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With future climate change and increased water demand and scarcity in the Colorado River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation estimates that the costs of salinity damage will increase for Colorado River users and will exacerbate the current salinity challenges. This study focuses on saline and sodic soils associated with the Mancos Shale formation in order to investigate the mechanisms driving sediment and salinity loads in the Price-San Rafael River Basin of the upper Colorado River. A Walnut Gulch rainfall simulator was operated with a variety of slope angles and rainfall intensities at two field sites (Price, Dry-X) near Price, Utah in order to evaluate how the amount and spatial distribution of vegetation affects salinity in runoff. For each simulated rainfall event, the time-varying concentrations of major cations, anions, and sediment in runoff were measured. Principal component analysis revealed that the two field sites are generally different in runoff water chemistry and soil chemistry, likely due to the difference in parent material and soil indicative of their location on different geologic members. The Dry-X site also has substantially greater total dissolved solids (TDS) and sediment in runoff, soil sodium absorption ratio (SAR), and soil cation exchange capacity (CEC) than the Price site. Despite these differences, a consistent positive linear relationship between the plot-averaged sediment and TDS concentration was found across both sites. The Rangeland Hydrology Erosion Model (RHEM) was calibrated to provide unbiased estimates of sediment in runoff from 23 runs of the rainfall simulator. RHEM simulated the plot-plot variability best at Dry-X compared to Price. Sensitivity analysis of the RHEM input parameters showed that the splash and sheet erodibility coefficient (Kss) and the effective saturated conductivity coefficient (Ke) had the largest influence on the model’s sediment and discharge outputs, respectively. The regression that predicted TDS concentration from sediment was applied to RHEM outputs to show that the model could be used to provide salinity estimates for different storm intensities on this part of the Mancos Shale. The potential influence of vegetation canopy cover on sediment production from these two sites was inferred by running RHEM with canopy cover values ranging from 0% to 100%. This changed sediment output by 111% to -91% relative to the present vegetation cover. Measures of the geometry of soil and vegetation patches at Dry-X, such as fractal dimension index and proximity index, showed a relationship to error residuals from RHEM. As the vegetation becomes less isolated, more uniform, and the tortuosity of the bare soil area increases, observed sediment decreases relative to RHEM predictions. The results of this study will help land management agencies assess the feasibility of mitigation strategies for reducing sediment and salinity loads from the saline and sodic soils of the Mancos Shale formation and indicate a possible benefit to incorporating the parameters that describe the spatial pattern of vegetation in RHEM.