Gunnison River

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Gunnison River
GunnisonRvr.JPG
Gunnison river basin map.png
Map of the Gunnison River, its tributaries and major cities
Location
Country United States
State Colorado
Cities Gunnison, Grand Junction
Physical characteristics
Source East River confluence with the Taylor River
  coordinates 38°39′49″N106°50′50″W / 38.66361°N 106.84722°W / 38.66361; -106.84722 [1]
  elevation8,008 ft (2,441 m) [2]
Mouth Colorado River
  coordinates
39°3′42″N108°34′42″W / 39.06167°N 108.57833°W / 39.06167; -108.57833 Coordinates: 39°3′42″N108°34′42″W / 39.06167°N 108.57833°W / 39.06167; -108.57833 [1]
  elevation
4,552.56 ft (1,387.62 m) [2]
Length180 mi (290 km) [3]
Basin size7,923 sq mi (20,520 km2) [4]
Discharge 
  locationUSGS Station 09152500 GUNNISON RIVER NEAR GRAND JUNCTION, CO [5]
  average2,741 cu ft/s (77.6 m3/s) [4]
  minimum533 cu ft/s (15.1 m3/s) [4]
  maximum16,500 cu ft/s (470 m3/s) [4]
Basin features
Tributaries 
  left Tomichi Creek, Cebolla Creek, Lake Fork Gunnison River, Cimarron River, Uncompahgre River
  right Smith Fork, North Fork Gunnison River, Kannah Creek

The Gunnison River is located in western Colorado, and it is one of the largest tributaries of the Colorado river. The 180-mile (289-km) long river flows east to west, and it has a drainage area of 7,923 square miles (20,520 km2) according to the USGS. [6] [3] The drainage basin of the Gunnison River collects water from different habitats, such as forests and alpine meadows, located the along Continental Divide. As the river flows westward, it carves through the San Juan Mountains. It flows into the Colorado River at Grand Junction.

Contents

The Gunnison River Basin is popular for recreational activities such as fishing, rafting, boating, camping, hiking, and rock climbing. [7]

Contamination of the Gunnison River with selenium and mercury results from irrigation of high-selenium soils derived from the Mancos Shale and from mineral mining. The region surround the Gunnison River is also part of the Colorado Mineral Belt. Contamination of the Gunnison River with selenium and mercury is a conservation concern for the bonytail chub, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, and the razorback sucker, whose critical habitat includes the lower Gunnison River. [8]

Basin features

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Black Canyon of the Gunnison 01.jpg
Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The Gunnison River is formed by the confluence of Taylor and East rivers at Almont in eastern Gunnison County, Colorado. Just past the town of Gunnison, the river begins to swell into the expanse of Blue Mesa Reservoir, a 36-mile-long (58 km) reservoir formed by Blue Mesa Dam, where it receives the Lake Fork of the Gunnison. Just downstream, it is dammed again to form Morrow Point Reservoir and then dammed again to form Crystal Reservoir. The reservoirs produce hydroelectric power and supply the surrounding areas with water for both municipal and irrigation use. The reservoirs are located along the upper part of the Gunnison River. Below Crystal Dam, the Gunnison River begins to roar through massive cataracts.

The Gunnison River then flows through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of the longest, narrowest, and deepest gorges in the world. At the outlet of the Black Canyon, it receives the North Fork River, and then downstream, near Delta, Colorado, it is joined by the Uncompahgre River. It then winds through desert canyonlands, where it receives Kannah Creek. It then empties out of the Dominguez Canyon into the Colorado River at Grand Junction, where some years it rivals the Colorado River for equal volume.

The Gunnison River ranges in width from 100 to 1,000 feet (30 to 305 m) and in-depth from 3 to 50 feet (1 to 15 m). The river's powerful current and many rapids make upstream travel nearly impossible. It is navigable by small craft throughout its course and by larger boats below the Black Canyon. Parts of the Black Canyon are non-navigable by any sort of craft because of giant cataracts. Navigation through the entire canyon is dangerous and for experienced boaters only.

History

The first non-native to see and record information of the Gunnison River was Juan Maria de Rivera, who came to the banks of the river just below its confluence with the Uncompahgre River in 1761 and 1765. It was again seen in 1776 by Silvestre Vélez de Escalante. At the time the Spanish name for the river was Rio de San Javier (Xavier); the Native American name was Tomichi. Escalante noted that Rivera thought it was "the great Rio del Tizon", the long-used Spanish name for the lower Colorado River. [9]

Through the mid-1800s, the river was variously named the Eagle, Eagle Tail, South Fork of the Grand, Grande, and Grand River. Exploration reports and published maps of the 1850s and 1860s most commonly referred to the river as the Grand River. In subsequent years, however, the river was renamed for U.S. Army Captain John W. Gunnison of the Topographic Engineers, who was ambushed and killed by Pahvant Utes while mapping a trail west in Utah Territory in 1853. [10]

Fishing

The lower section of the Gunnison River is designated as Gold Medal Water and Wild Trout Water. The designated area begins 200 yards below the Crystal Dam and stretches through the Gunnison Gorge to the confluence of the North Fork and Gunnison Rivers. [11]

Engineering

Part of the river's water is diverted to irrigate the Uncompahgre Valley via the 5-mile-long (8 km) Gunnison Tunnel, which was built between 1905 and 1909. The Blue Mesa Dam, Morrow Point Dam, and Crystal Dam–built between the 1960s and the 1970s–are part of the Colorado River Storage Project.

Timeline of river development and management projects

Past

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century the Bureau of Reclamation built multiple dams (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal) and reservoirs (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal). All of these projects provided the area with large amounts of water which supported local agriculture, recreation, and other industries. Development of the Gunnison River prompted concerns from those wanting to preserve the scenic beauty of the river (especially the Black Canyon of the Gunnison). In the 1930s President Herbert Hoover designated the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River a national monument in order to protect "the roar of the river." [3] By the end of the 20th century the Black Canyon received more protections when the US Congress declared the canyon a national park.

Present

In 2008 the Black Canyon Decree was passed which resolved legal disputes over water resources in Colorado and protect the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The decree set a flow regime that "will protect the water-dependent resources of the Black Canyon and help restore the ecological balance in the river system disrupted by three federal dams immediately upstream of the Park." [12] The condition of the Gunnison River continues to improve with increased protections for Black Canyon National Park and as stakeholders, scientists, and natural resource managers continue their efforts to protect the Gunnison River. Their efforts include conducting scientific research and publishing information that informs the general public how they can protect the river. According to a progress report from 2019, the Gunnison Basin Selenium Management Program continues its efforts to “develop and implement a Selenium Management Program (SMP), in cooperation with the State of Colorado and Gunnison River basin water users to reduce adverse effects of selenium on endangered fish species in the Gunnison and Colorado rivers." [13]

Future

The Gunnison River is threatened by climate change, demand for water resources and ongoing challenges regarding selenium contamination. [8] Because of these factors the future of the Gunnison River is uncertain.

Ecosystem contamination

Selenium and mercury contamination of the Gunnison River results from irrigation of soils that are naturally high in selenium, mining activity, and atmospheric mercury deposition. Selenium and mercury contribute to concerns about conservation of resident biota. Four fish species - the humpback chub, bonytail chu, Colorado pikeminnow, and the razorback sucker - are endemic to the region. [14] [15] Critical habitat for these species includes the lower Gunnison River. [16] Elevated salinity concentrations are also a problem for the river and its users. Soils derived from the Mancos Shale, east of the Uncompahgre River, are naturally high in both selenium and salinity. [17]

Selenium

Elevated selenium in the Gunnison River Basin reflects the underlying geology. The Gunnison River Basin sits atop the Mancos Shale which is naturally elevated in selenium. The seleniferous soil the shale produces have come to the subsurface due to weathering of the rock and uplift. [18] Agricultural irrigation of seleniferous soils is one mechanism of selenium loading to the Gunnison River. [19] As farmland in the Gunnison River Basin is abundant, the amount of selenium reaches well over the normal concentration in areas from Grand Junction to the tributaries in the upper Gunnison River. [20] Some of the most concentrated tributaries of the Gunnison, namely the Uncompahgre, [21] load large amounts of selenium to the Gunnison River. Selenium concentrations in the River can be as high as 11 ppm during peak times. [22] Agricultural areas in the Gunnison River Basin are heavily farmed and provide large amounts of sediment during the growing months. [23] Concentrations of selenium in the Gunnison River rise in April until they peak in August due to irrigation drainage. These peaks in selenium concentrations coincide with the reproduction events of the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. [24] High amounts of selenium are deposited into the yolk by the mother and juvenile fish eat algae that is highly concentrated with selenium in August. [25] Effects of high selenium concentrations in fish include reduced oxygenation rates and lowered total energy capacity used for movement and reproduction, with fitness consequences for migratory fish such as the Colorado pikeminnow. [26] Elevated selenium exposure can also cause malformations in adult fish. [26]

Mercury

Mercury in the Gunnison River comes from human activities including surface mining and burning fossil fuels such as coal. [27] As rain water is discharged, it transports mercury to the river where bacteria biotransform mercury into methylmercury. Methylmercury has no biological benefit but rather bioaccumulates and biomagnifies through the trophic levels of the Gunnison River ecosystem. [28] [29] These concentrations of mercury can be as high as 13% above thresholds set in place by the EPA. [30] Humpback chub, bonytail chub, Colorado pikeminnow, and the razorback sucker are susceptible to elevated concentrations of mercury based on their long distance annual migrations to reproduce. The Colorado pikeminnow is especially vulnerable to high concentrations of mercury as its life cycle is relatively long and the distances they travel for migration are especially far. [31]

Remediation

Organizations throughout Colorado are collaborating on pollution remediation in the Gunnison River in order to increase habitat quality for the razorback sucker and the Colorado pikeminnow. Some of these organizations and plans include The Gunnison River Basin's Selenium Management Plan, The Selenium Control Program, and the Bureau of Reclamation's Gunnison Basin Selenium Management Program. [32] These programs aim to minimize the impact of selenium and salinity as unhealthy amounts of salinity lead to lower reproduction rates of fish was well as problems with agriculture. Current remediation attempts have led to a 43% reduction of selenium concentrations since the 1980s but additional reductions are needed to ensure the safety of the ecosystem. [33] These attempts include giving funding to farmers of the Gunnison River Basin to reduce the amount of sedimentation deposited back into the river and therefore lower the overall amount of selenium being loaded into the river via tributaries. Salinity is being addressed by implementing local investments into the water use infrastructure by converting old systems to direct pipeline and sprinklers to help reduce the amount of runoff into the Gunnison. [34] By reducing the amount of runoff being directed into the Gunnison, less selenium has been deposited into the river by irrigation drainage. [35] As climate change reduces stream flow in the Gunnison River, future concentrations of both selenium and mercury will continually rise. This has led water managers and stakeholders from the Gunnison River Basin to review options in order to reduce the impact of climate change. These plans for the future hope to strengthen the critical water infrastructure, reduce agriculture water shortages, and encourage the beneficial relationship between agricultural, environmental and recreational water uses. [36] In addition, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund has awarded the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment almost $13 million for future research and development along with pollution control and mitigation attempts. [37] Most recently, the Gunnison River will soon be evaluated by state water quality officials to determine if the improvement programs have been successful in reducing the selenium and salinity levels toxic to the endangered fish. If the selenium levels are above the 4.6 mg/L water quality standard, the Gunnison will be subject to reclassification. [33]

See also

Related Research Articles

Colorado River Major river in the western United States and Mexico

The Colorado River is one of the principal rivers in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The 1,450-mile-long (2,330 km) river drains an expansive, arid watershed that encompasses parts of seven U.S. states and two Mexican states. Starting in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the river flows generally southwest across the Colorado Plateau and through the Grand Canyon before reaching Lake Mead on the Arizona–Nevada border, where it turns south toward the international border. After entering Mexico, the Colorado approaches the mostly dry Colorado River Delta at the tip of the Gulf of California between Baja California and Sonora.

Pyramid Lake (Nevada) Lake in Nevada, United States

Pyramid Lake is the geographic sink of the basin of the Truckee River, 40 mi (64 km) northeast of Reno, Nevada, United States.

Yampa River river in northwestern Colorado, United States

The Yampa River flows 250 miles (400 km) through northwestern Colorado in the United States. Rising in the Rocky Mountains, it is a tributary of the Green River and a major part of the Colorado River system. The Yampa is one of the few free-flowing rivers in the western United States, with only a few small dams and diversions.

Uncompahgre River

The Uncompahgre River is a tributary of the Gunnison River, approximately 75 mi (121 km) long, in southwestern Colorado in the United States. Lake Como at 12,215 ft (3723m) in northern San Juan County, in the Uncompahgre National Forest in the northwestern San Juan Mountains is the headwaters of the river. It flows northwest past Ouray, Ridgway, Montrose, and Olathe and joins the Gunnison at Confluence Park in Delta.

Carson River River in Nevada, United States

The Carson River is a northwestern Nevada river that empties into the Carson Sink, an endorheic basin. The main stem of the river is 131 miles (211 km) long although the addition of the East Fork makes the total length 205 miles (330 km), traversing five counties: Alpine County in California and Douglas, Storey, Lyon, and Churchill Counties in Nevada, as well as the Consolidated Municipality of Carson City, Nevada. The river is named for Kit Carson, who guided John C. Frémont's expedition westward up the Carson Valley and across Carson Pass in winter, 1844. The river made the National Priorities List (NPL) on October 30, 1990 as the Carson River Mercury Superfund site (CRMS) due to investigations that showed trace amounts of mercury in the wildlife and watershed sediments.

Sevier River River in central Utah, United States

The Sevier River is a 385-mile (620 km)-long river in the Great Basin of southwestern Utah in the United States. Originating west of Bryce Canyon National Park, the river flows north through a chain of high farming valleys and steep canyons along the west side of the Sevier Plateau, before turning southwest and terminating in the endorheic basin of Sevier Lake in the Sevier Desert. It is used extensively for irrigation along its course, with the consequence that Sevier Lake is usually dry.

North Fork Gunnison River

The North Fork Gunnison River is a tributary of the Gunnison River, 33.5 miles (53.9 km) long, in southwestern Colorado in the United States. It drains part of the southwestern flank of the Elk Mountains northeast of Delta.

Price River

The Price River is a 137-mile-long (220 km) southeastward flowing river in Carbon, Utah and Emery counties in eastern Utah. It is tributary to the Green River, itself a tributary to the Colorado River.

Curecanti National Recreation Area

Curecanti National Recreation Area(Pronounced or .) is a National Park Service unit located on the Gunnison River in western Colorado. Established in 1965, Curecanti National Recreation Area is responsible for developing and managing recreational facilities on three reservoirs, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Morrow Point Reservoir and Crystal Reservoir, constructed on the upper Gunnison River in the 1960s by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to better utilize the vital waters of the Colorado River and its major tributaries. A popular destination for boating and fishing, Curecanti offers visitors two marinas, traditional and group campgrounds, hiking trails, boat launches, and boat-in campsites. The state's premiere lake trout and Kokanee salmon fisheries, Curecanti is a popular destination for boating and fishing, and is also a popular area for ice-fishing in the winter months.

Flaming Gorge Dam Concrete thin-arch dam on the Green River in northern Utah, United States

Flaming Gorge Dam is a concrete thin-arch dam on the Green River, a major tributary of the Colorado River, in northern Utah in the United States. Flaming Gorge Dam forms the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which extends 91 miles (146 km) into southern Wyoming, submerging four distinct gorges of the Green River. The dam is a major component of the Colorado River Storage Project, which stores and distributes upper Colorado River Basin water.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Blue Mesa Reservoir is an artificial reservoir located on the upper reaches of the Gunnison River in Gunnison County, Colorado. The largest lake located entirely within the state, Blue Mesa Reservoir was created by the construction of Blue Mesa Dam, a 390-foot tall earthen fill dam constructed on the Gunnison by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1966 for the generation of hydroelectric power. Managed as part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service, Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest lake trout and Kokanee salmon fishery in Colorado.

Humpback chub Species of fish

The humpback chub is a federally protected fish that lived originally in fast waters of the Colorado River system in the United States. This species takes its name from the prominent hump between the head and dorsal fin, which is thought to direct the flow of water over the body and help maintain body position in the swift currents of the Colorado. The body is almost entirely scaleless, retaining only about 80 mid-lateral scales along the lateral line. The fish is very streamlined, with a thin caudal peduncle and a deeply forked tail. The back is a light olive gray, the sides silver, and the belly white. The dorsal fin usually has nine rays, and the anal fin 10 or more. Maximum recorded length is 38 cm.

The Colorado pikeminnow is the largest cyprinid fish of North America and one of the largest in the world, with reports of individuals up to 6 ft (1.8 m) long and weighing over 100 pounds (45 kg). Native to the Colorado River Basin of the southwestern United States and adjacent Mexico, it was formerly an important food fish for both Native Americans and European settlers. Once abundant and widespread in the basin, its numbers have declined to the point where it has been extirpated from the Mexican part of its range and was listed as endangered in the US part in 1967, a fate shared by the three other large Colorado Basin endemic fish species: bonytail chub, humpback chub, and razorback sucker. The Colorado pikeminnow is currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.

Navajo Dam Dam in San Juan and Rio Arriba Counties, New Mexico

Navajo Dam is a dam on the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River, in northwestern New Mexico in the United States. The 402-foot (123 m) high earthen dam is situated in the foothills of the San Juan Mountains about 44 miles (71 km) upstream and east of Farmington, New Mexico. It was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) in the 1960s to provide flood control, irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply, and storage for droughts. A small hydroelectric power plant was added in the 1980s.

Uncompahgre Valley

The Uncompahgre Valley is an agricultural valley of the Uncompahgre River around the town of Montrose in the western part of the U.S. state of Colorado. The valley is bounded to the south and east by the San Juan Mountains and to the west by the Uncompahgre Plateau. The valley contains about 135 acres of irrigable land, is 35 miles long, and approximately 12 miles wide.

Bonytail chub Species of fish

The bonytail chub or bonytail is a cyprinid freshwater fish native to the Colorado River basin of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in the southwestern United States; it has been extirpated from the part of the basin in Mexico. It was once abundant and widespread in the basin, its numbers and range have declined to the point where it has been listed as endangered since 1980 (ESA) and 1986 (IUCN), a fate shared by the other large Colorado basin endemic fish species like the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, and razorback sucker. It is now the rarest of the endemic big-river fishes of the Colorado River. There are 20 species in the genus Gila, seven of which are found in Arizona.

Kesterson Reservoir Selenium-contaminated evaporation ponds historically used for agricultural drainage

The Kesterson Reservoir is part of the current San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in California. Formerly a unit of the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, the reservoir was an important stopping point for migratory waterfowl. Kesterson once consisted of 12 evaporation ponds totaling approximately 1,280 acres, and was historically used for agricultural drainage. Kesterson gained national attention during the latter half of the 20th century due to selenium toxicity and rapid die off of migratory waterfowl, fish, insects, plants and algae. The reservoir was closed in 1986, and concentrations of selenium at the site have continued to be monitored throughout remediation efforts.

Colorado River Storage Project

The Colorado River Storage Project is a United States Bureau of Reclamation project designed to oversee the development of the upper Colorado River basin. The project provides hydroelectric power, flood control and water storage for participating states along the upper portion of the Colorado River and its major tributaries.

Course of the Colorado River

The Colorado River is a major river of the western United States and northwest Mexico in North America. Its headwaters are in the Rocky Mountains where La Poudre Pass Lake is its source. Located in north central Colorado it flows southwest through the Colorado Plateau country of western Colorado, southeastern Utah and northwestern Arizona where it flows through the Grand Canyon. It turns south near Las Vegas, Nevada, forming the Arizona–Nevada border in Lake Mead and the Arizona–California border a few miles below Davis Dam between Laughlin, Nevada and Needles, California before entering Mexico in the Colorado Desert. Most of its waters are diverted into the Imperial Valley of Southern California. In Mexico its course forms the boundary between Sonora and Baja California before entering the Gulf of California. This article describes most of the major features along the river.

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