Task force hosts workshop on selenium

In the early 1980s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started documenting unusually high occurrences of mortality, deformities and decreased reproduction in fish and aquatic birds at the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge in the western San Joaquin Valley in California.

By 1983, the culprit was identified as selenium, present in abnormally high concentrations in the refuge where regional irrigation waters collected.

Concerned that selenium problems wouldn’t be limited to Kesterson, the Fish and Wildlife Service began a study around the West on the effects of irrigation drainage on water quality.

Today, irrigation drainage from the Uncompahgre Project along the Western Slope is looked upon as possible primary sources of selenium and other unwanted constituents to the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers and Sweitzer Lake near Delta.

According to a brochure produced by the Gunnison Basin and Grand Valley Selenium Task Force, drainage from the Uncompahgre Project and the Grand Valley may account for as much as 75 percent of the selenium load to the Colorado River as measured near the Colorado-Utah line.

The task force says primary source areas for selenium are the eastern side of the Uncompahgre Valley and the western half of the Grand Valley, where extensive irrigation is located on Mancos shale.

Since 1997, the state has been quantifying pollution sources and how to control these unwanted additions to water supplies.

The selenium task force is a group of private, local, state and federal agencies working to reduce selenium loads while preserving the viability and lifestyle of the Lower Gunnison Valley.

Previously, a project lining irrigation ditches in the Grand Valley markedly reduced the valley’s contribution of selenium to the Colorado River.

According to the task force, most people shouldn’t be concerned about high selenium concentrations affecting their health.

“Selenium poisoning would only be an issue if a person were consuming selenium-contaminated fish daily,” the task force says.

Because of high concentrations of selenium in fish from Sweitzer Lake, the Division of Wildlife posted caution signs around the lake, warning anglers not to eat the fish.

The task force will focus on the selenium quandary by hosting a “Climbing the Selenium Summit” workshop Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Bill Heddles Recreation Center in Delta.

According to a pre-meeting notice, the seminar will teach participants how to minimize impacts to the environment “while taking advantage of economic opportunities that exist for development and agricultural improvements.”

Among those speaking will be representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, the selenium task force, local conservation districts, the Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado State University Extension Service.

The workshop is free, lunch and snacks will be provided.

For information about the workshop, contact Sonja Chavez de Baca at 970-641-8927 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Information about the task force and selenium is available online at http://www.seleniumtaskforce.org.


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